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[Page 231]

The insight of a Torah Scholar

by Yechiel Reznik, of Blessed Memory

Translated by Shula and Morton Laby

I, Yechiel Reznick, have been asked by my friends and fellow people of Dubossar to participate in writing a memorial book for our sacred community in which I grew up, married my wife and had my sons and daughters. Hence, I feel an obligation to bring from the depths of my memory an episode of which the hero was a brilliant rabbi who worshipped G-d with fasting and prayer. He was my father-in-law, Rabbi Shimon ben Rav Nachum Levi Yitzchak of blessed memory, known as Reb Shimele Nachum Levi, whom I was honored to serve and to pour water over his hands. I basked in the light of his Torah knowledge and hope I have inherited a little of his teaching ability and scrupulousness in every aspect of religion and law.

It was one day in 1894 or 1895, while I was studying with Reb Shimele that a young man of some 22 years of age entered and introduced himself to the Rabbi as a “de-veiner” of the hind parts of cattle (Ed. note: This was necessary in order to make certain cuts of meat kosher.) The conversation between the Rabbi and the young man went as follows:

Rabbi: Do you have a diploma as a de-veiner?
Young Man: Yes I have a hechsher (permit).
Rabbi: Where is the diploma?
Young Man: It is with the dayan (judge of rabbinic law) Rabbi Yerucham.
Rabbi: Did you get permission from Rabbi Yerucham?
Young Man: Yes.
Rabbi: (sighing). If so then why did you come to me?
Young Man: I was told that the majority of the townspeople would not buy meat unless you also gave me your approval.
Rabbi: If so, then why did you not bring me the diploma? Did you think that I would write my approval on your forehead?

The young man mumbled something, said his goodbyes and left empty-handed. This happened on Wednesday. He returned the following day at noon and without saying a word handed my teacher a note signed by the rabbi of a neighbouring town, beneath which was the signature of Reb Yerucham. After a few minutes he said: “I though that it would be enough if Reb Yerucham approved and that you would accept his approval.”

My master took the paper, turned it from side to side, read it over several times, looked at it again and again, and finally handed the paper back to the young man saying in an unmistakable tone: “I absolutely forbid you to make kosher any meat which needs de-veining – and not only this – I also forbid you to rely on the permit of Reb Yerucham, not because he is suspect in his own kashrut , but because he has made a very sad mistake in this matter. Do you understand what I am saying? If it were up to me, I would not have given you back this certificate but I do not have the right to keep it. I suggest that you leave our town immediately. Go in peace.”

The next day – it was early Friday morning – my father-in-law was still in his bed when there came a knock on the door. My mother-in-law opened it and the shamas (sexton) burst into the house in great excitement. “Rabbi”, he addressed my father-in-law, “A great scandal is in town!. The de-veiner is working and several women have already bought the treife (not kosher) meat!”

From the day when I first met my father-in-law, I had never seen him as swift and agile as on that morning. Like a boy, he jumped from his bed, washed, dressed in whatever was handy, and hurriedly left the house with myself and the shamas following behind.

Actually running, he reached the butcher shop shaking with excitement, and in a commanding voice proclaimed: “You are feeding Jews treife! In the name of our Holy Torah and in the name of the Halachah (Jewish law), I forbid you to continue selling this meat because it is treife.” He turned to the shamas and said to him: “Go and proclaim in the streets of the town that everyone who has bought de-veined meat here should throw it to the dogs because it is treife. And if they have a question about the state of kashrut of their utensils, they should address the rabbis.” He added that he had requested Reb Yerucham to come to the Beit Midrash (prayer house) to clarify the matter.

In an instant the town became a whirlwind. Reb Yerucham's entourage met to discuss the problem. The story is that Reb Yerucham at first did not intend to come to the Beit Midrash. He was deeply insulted by the verdict of Rabbi Shimele but his advisors pressed him to go in order to prove his innocence.

Meanwhile, many Jews were gathering in the Beit Midrash. Such a thing had never happened in our town. The great Beit Midrash was too small to hold the crowd and people were even crowded into doorways and windows in expectation of seeing a public confrontation between the two Torah giants.

Rabbi Shimele ascended the bimah (pulpit) and addressed the public: “I ask the crowd to choose from amongst themselves persons expert in handwriting, who will examine the note which this fellow has brought to us.”

Dudl Lifschin and Yechilikl Tselnik were chosen and ascended the bimah. The Rabbi handed them the paper and said: “Look well at the date when this paper was issued.” They looked and after a while replied: “The date has been altered; a forgery has been committed.”

It is difficult to describe the tumult which erupted in the Beit Midrash. Cries and screams rang out. Suddenly a voice was heard: “Hush, hush; Rabbi Shimele wishes to speak.”

Instantly a complete quiet prevailed. The Rabbi took the certificate, held it up to the crowd and said: “My friends, according to the date on this permit, it was given nineteen months ago. But look at the crumpled yellowed paper and you will come to the realization that it was actually issued at least fifteen years ago and has since been altered and passed from hand to hand.” The appearance of the paper was as compelling as a hundred witnesses in illustrating the justice of Rabbi Shimele's case. The crowd quieted down and began to disperse. That Sabbath, everyone in town was speaking about Rabbi Shimele who had prevented the Jews of Dubossar from eating treife. Then, Sunday at noon there arrived a telegram addressed to the Rabbi:

“Be it hereby known, that should anyone arrive in town with a certificate in hand permitting him to de-vein the hind parts of cattle to make them kosher, I hereby proclaim that the certificate was stolen, and that any meat such a fellow de-veins is treife.” The signature on the telegram was that of the rabbi of the town where the certificate had been issued.

Quickly the news spread around town; the telegram was passed from hand to hand and for many days the townspeople spoke about the imposter and the Rabbi.

In Reb Yerucham's favor, it should be said that he admitted his mistake and apologized for having let the culprit mislead him, for Reb Yerucham was a trusting and G-d fearing soul.

[Page 233]

The Gabbai [sexton] of the Makarover rabbi

by Nachum Peck

Translated by Sarah Faerman

“Yossi, the Makaraver Rabbi's Gabbai” (trustee). That is how they called my Zaide (grandfather) who was the head Gabbai of the Makaraver Rabbi and also the Cantor of the Rabbi's little synagogue. He was from Makarov and his wife was from Dubossar.

He was a tall man, my Zaide, with a gaunt, pale face, a sparse, white beard and a pair of big, penetrating eyes. His side locks were curly and round like two bottles and would rhythmically sway when he prayed, studied or even walked.

Almost 20 hours a day he was occupied with God's work. His “work” day started just before dawn when it was still dark outside. He performed the ritual of hand washing upon rising and immediately started to study Gemara (holy book) with a sweet melody that would suffuse his whole being. His melody for learning was additionally engraved in my memory because I could barely fall asleep unless I heard it.

As a child I was easily frightened. At night I would become startled at every little rustle. However, when my Zaide would sit down to study Gemara after his supper, his sweet haunting melody would quickly lull me to sleep.

He would study for half the night. Then to mark midnight, he would recite Tehilim (psalms) and at dawn he would go to the mikva (ritual bath). From there he would proceed directly to the synagogue to pray. He would then return home, wash before eating, say the blessings and once again devote himself to study.

Throughout the whole week, I did not hear my Zaide utter ordinary , every day language. With a few words of the holy language and with a bit of a wink, my Bobbe (grandmother) Nechama understood him. When did I hear my Zaide speak Yiddish? At the end of Sabbath, after the Havdala (end of Sabbath ceremony). Then there would be a gathering in our house of devout Jews – all Chasidim (religious movement), all sons of the Torah such as: Reb yerucham Dayan, Hershl Yosl Zelig's, Avreml the Cantor and so on. They would discuss and learn Chasidic issues. One of their favourite topics during these Saturday evening gatherings was Cantors and Cantorial music. Zaide would tell stories about Nissi Belzer, the famous cantor and composer of liturgical music who was also his close friend. Nissi Belzer was also a Makarov Chasid and My Zaide's only son, my Uncle Nachum Matenko, practically grew up with him before he himself became a famous Cantor. He was Cantor in the Moscow Polyakov Synagogue as well as performing in concerts all the way to the Czar's court.

At the end of the Sabbath, Saturday night, they would sit and talk until late at night. The Samover was always hot and Bobbe was busy serving tea with preserves that she had prepared herself from all kinds of fruit as well as her home baked cookies. My Bobbe was proud of her husband, the scholar and Chasid. She took care that he would lack for nothing and by virtue of his good deeds, she was sure that she would also have a share in the world to come and would be as his foot stool.

My Zaide did not concern himself about income. For that, he had confidence in the Almighty , blessed be He, and the Rabbi. Being as it is, however, neither the Almighty nor the Rabbi will make the effort without an emmisary. Bobbe took it upon herself to fulfill this role. My Bobbe Nechama, was an Eyshes Chayil (woman of valour). She ran a wool dying enterprise which provided a good income. This made it possible for her to run a respectable household, to marry off her children and to have the ability to entertain generously on Sabbaths and holidays. I remember also her feasts of Mitzva that she would prepare for the elite of the town when my Zaide would complete one of the tractates of the Talmud, a quite frequent occurance during his lifetime. Until this day we can remember the wonderful taste of her varenikes filled with potato and chicken or goose gribn (cracklings). And what about the thick, red Borscht beaten with yolks that were cooked in fat marrow bones! My Bobbe's borscht with varenikes were famous in Dubossar.

My Zaide and I did not exactly live in great harmony. At the age of eight , I would forget to say a blessing or forget to wash before a meal or rush through my prayers. My Zaide would roar: “ A total goy!” That was his greates insult. If Bobbe was neaby, she would say “Leave the poor orphan alone already.” She would take me aside and with mild words of reproof, encourage me to be an honest Jew so that my mother in the other world would not be ashamed and suffer because of her one and only son.

My Zaide was not always displeased with me. Friday evenings, for example, at the table, when we Sang Sabbath melodies or at the three Sabbath meals, he would have much pleasure from me. I had a nice little voice and I knew my Zaide's entire repertoire by heart. When we would sing our melodies together, people would stand outside under our windows to listen. Then my Zaide would give my cheek a pinch. That was his greatest compliment and expression of love and acknoledgement. In those moments, my Bobbe would look with triumph at my Zaide as if to say: “Ha, what do you say now about Nochem'ke. He's definitely not a total goy!”

My Bobbe loved me more than all of the other grandchildren. She would say that of the three children that God took away from her, I was the only one close by. The oldest daughter, Malka, had one daughter who married and moved with her husband to Argentina. The son, Nachum Matenko, had been poisoned by enemies jealous of him and he had two boys who lived with their mother in Odessa. My mother, the youngest daughter, Tzirl, was very young when she departed this world while I was still a small child. My Bobbe took me to her home and was the one that raised me.

My Zaide lived a long life and never went to see a doctor. He didn't believe in doctors. First of all, he had faith in God and then in the Rabbi. When his time came at the age of eighty-six and when his suffering was great, my Bobbe did not ask him but sent for Dr. Krasnovyetz. When the doctor came in and asked him:”Reb Yossi, how are you feeling?”, my Zaide answered: “They are summoning me there but I go without fear.” With a motion of his hand he requested that my Bobbe come close to the bed and he asked her to summon three of his friends. He confessed his sins to them, turned over with his face to the wall where all of his books were and without even a sigh, released his pure soul. He died in the year 1904, my Zaide, of righteous and blessed memory.

My Bobbe Nechama, the saintly woman, was a true Jewish matriarch. She passed away at the beginning of the Jewish month of Av, 1914, a few days before the outbreak of World War 1. May her memory be honoured.

[Page 236]

My Town Dubossar

by Anna Scheer (nee Teitelboim)

Translated by Florence Steinberg Schumacher and Jennie Steinberg Brown

Where is the street, where is the house?
No longer the street, no longer the house.

… Perhaps you can explain how they took two low rows of houses with roofs decorated with red brick and placed them, one row opposite the other, at the very edge of the shore? Who knows how many generations, perhaps even as far back as the six days of creation, these houses hugged the banks of the river with its sloping hill… and maybe even found their reflection in the puddles that spread out in such a princely fashion in the days of endless rain, when ice and snow began to melt. Who knows for how many generations these houses have witnessed the water-carrier struggling pitifully with all his strength up the hill bringing up clay barrels of water on his horse who likewise, strained helplessly , begging the water- carrier in its own way to pitch in and help. Otherwise, the wealthy houses would be like empty pockets – without water.

In one of these very houses with gardens in the back yard, one could discern between the branches of the trees, a church, as if to spite the Jewish poverty that had spread out its tents not far from the River Dniester where the gardens blossomed on the riverbanks of red clay. Here, in one of these very houses, I was born to a family who, generations before, started out in the nearby vicinity of Grigoriopol (Charna) that is part of the overall Dubossar geography.

I was born to Nachum Teitelboim who was called “Nachum The Baker” because every morning he would favour the Dubossar early morning tea and coffee drinkers with fresh egg bagels and onion rolls “just taken from the oven”, slightly browned like the forehead of a gypsy and with the tantalizing scent of poppy seed and delicious baked goods.

Our family grew larger than the “Number Eight” in the Yiddish folksong and “Sleeping in Twos” was necessary as our little house was very small. When the oldest sister, Pesia, married and moved to the small town of Rokalesht on the other side of the River Dniester with her husband Yangel Bronzilberg, the tobacconist (he was in involved in tobacco plantations), the house became roomier. Afterwords, my second sister Sheindl decided to go to an uncle in Argentina and when I also left for America to re-unite with my fiance Hershl Shargaradsky (Yitzchak the Klezmer's son) – for sure the house became even roomier and spacious for my sisters and brother who remained. There were my sister Dvora , my brother Moishe Yitzchak Klezmer's daughter Toibe, Rivka and Arel (all unfortunately died in Hitler's hell with their families) Faigele who lives in Argentina; and mother, Chaya Sorah, who in contrast to father's red beard was dark skinned,- a Jewish beauty with black hair under her kerchief (which started to get gray when she was young because she had so much trouble selling the bagles and from being afraid of the evil eye befalling the house with children.)

This doesn't mean that we children did not know the taste of working hard, we kept pace with our tasks: pouring flour into the troughs, carrying wood for the stove, fetching water from the well and in the morning carrying the strings of bagels, baskets of onion rolls and seltzer water to our stall in the market as well as to the other “merchants”, small stores and bars. To do all this work – lest the evil eye befall us – our mother's hands were not enough, so we children eased the burden by helping with respect and pride.

Our grandmother, Baila Rochel, was an asset to the family. She also did not sit with idle hands. The whole market knew her because she used to help our mother. Besides that, her Shabbes and holiday food were famous; her gefilte fish and her horseradish – so strong that when the Messiah comes, it will help to wake up the dead. At the time of the Kishinev pogrom, she just happened to be visiting her son, Itzl (who later joined the Baron Hirsch Colony in Argentina). The hooligans broke her foot and so she limped until her death at an advanced age. She died in Arihev while with her son Yosef Velvl, the bath keeper, and her daughter-in-law, Rochele, the beauty. She had prepared their Purim party with her traditional delicious food. Then she lay down and after three to four days of sleeping, ended her account with life. Her father, our great grandfather, Yisreol-Leib, a distinguished scholar, died in Bogadelnia, in the Jewish hospital at the age of 115 years.

In this way, the little houses did not have anything to be ashamed of with their inhabitants, our neighbours: Zaydl the carpenter, his wife Miriam and their four children who lived right near the market; on the other side, Chaim – Moishe-Hersh the tailor and his wife Alte and their six children; on our side, Elia-Laybeche with four children and across the street was a school where I also went to learn a little Yiddish and Russian. The school had a name, which if you didn't pronounce it quickly, your tongue would stumble over it, neither here nor there. The school was called: “Tchitchilnitzkyes Otshilishte”.

I have mentioned only a few of our neighbours but there were many. A gang of us children would descend like locusts and invade the weddings in Benyomin Rashkovan's hall near the police station. We called him “Benyomin the Blind” because one eye was useless. There was another hall called Hershl Chaykl's hall toward the old market down by the Jewish hospital across the street from our beloved rabbi, Rabbi Abel. We, however, were satisfied with “our hall” – Benyomin the Blind's hall – because first of all the other hall was quite far and second, we would have to fight with the children from the other neighbourhood…and not always were we ready for war.

You couldn't make a living in Dubossaar alone for so many mouths to feed, as my father used to say. Indeed he would hitch up the horse and wagon several times a week and travel to nearby villages to sell bagels to the tenant farmers. My aunt Ennis, father's sister, tells the following story about one such trip. Her son – Moishe Bik (a composer who lives in Israel ) in his childhood, would come during his summer vacations to our :crowded but comfortable house:

Coming with Uncle Nathan to a village, I usually helped him carry the bagels into the tenants' guest rooms. The wagon with the rest of the bagles was left outside and the horse leisurely caught its breath and chewed from his pouch as if he was praying from a sidur with near sighted eyes… Suddenly, uncle saw a village boy stealthily swipe a string of bagles from the wagon. Swiftly, uncle chased after the boy and a fight broke out. From the screams of the defeated village boy, tens of goyim (gentiles) ran up and uncle suddenly had to show his courage against the whole village. Quickly with his tall frame and broad shoulders, he ran to a nearby fence and tore out a board, swinging it like a sword from left to right and driving away the goyim who were crossing their hearts in fear: “A demon has appeared in our village! A demon!” My uncle put me deep into the wagon and victoriously cracked his whip so that the horse would go quickly from this village to another tenant lodging in another village.
My father's legacy, “A Chad Gadya Nigun” (Passover melody) was recorded by the Israeli composer, Yehoicham Stotchevsky, in his folklore notebooks and was also published.

It is over fifty years since I left Dubossar and although my memories do not contain the aura of a carefree childhood or a worry-free youth, I carry in my heart a longing for those years, for that very hard working community and the warm-hearted, decent, homey, positive , confident Jews where I grew up in this world to carry out and nurture the continuity of a new beginning, a new fate…

[Page 239]

Laybe's Cross

by Chaim Greenberg

Translated by Sarah Faerman

… It happened that I had to travel from Argayev to Dubossar with a Moldavian coachman. After a few hours into our journey, I asked him if we were far from our destination. “It is exactly half way”, he answered. “We are now very close to Laybe's Cross.” Laybe's Cross? Laybe's Crucifix? I expressed my bewilderment.

I saw before me, by the light of the moon, a well – a typical Bessarabian well – with a wooden sculpture of Jesus on a ladder and with a wooden cross at the very top of the ladder. A very common sight and a typical part of the scenery. But then, how does a Jew happen to have this named after him? The coachman related an ancient story.

Not far from here – he gestured at the village on the right side – there lived two neighbours – a Jew and a Moldavian. The Moldavian man was accused of a murder he did not commit. His Jewish neighbour, Reb Layb, took all the money he had and traveled all the way to Petersburg to hire lawyers to defend and exonerate his Moldavian friend. Eventually, the Moldavian was set free from prison but soon after, the Jew died. The Moldavian then dug out a well by the side of the road (a traditional gravestone in that district) and erected everything that accompanied a well - a carved figure of “The Saviour”, a ladder and a crucifix – in order to memorialize Reb Layb's name. This happened, he said, long, long ago when the present landowner's grandfather was still alive. From then on, all of the peasants in the vicinity refer to this place as “Laybe's Cross.”

The coachman was engrossed in his thoughts for a few minutes and then he said:

“Now we live like wolves. Before we lived like human beings.” He took the reins in one hand and with the other hand he first made the sign of the cross over himself and then over me. He quickly became frightened at his own impertinence – making a cross over a Jew! However, he soon arrived at a solution and begged me to make the cross over him in “Jewish”. I didn't know what he meant but he reminded me of the “Jewish Cross” that hangs over the door at the entrance to the Synagogue. I felt that I could not refuse him and (I'm ashamed to admit it) I made the sign of the Magen David over him.

From “Bessarabish”, published in the book “Pages From A Diary”

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