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[Page 73]

On the Threshold
of the 20th Century

 

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My Memories of Zhetl

by Avrom Shepetnitsky (Kfar Hasidim)

Translated by Janie Respitz

It is difficult to establish when Jews settled in Zhetl. Especially because the record book was burnt in one of the fires. However it is known that in our town there were old Jewish and Christian settlements. We have witnesses who said the old military barracks and their building materials, long and wide bricks of 20X50 centimetres, and the palace which burned down in 1908 and was renovated by the Russians, are witnesses to the old settlement.

Our parents used to say that Jewish settlement in Zhetl goes back 400 years. Also both Jewish cemeteries, the old and the new are witnesses of an old Jewish settlement. I remember in 1906–07 I read on a woman's tombstone that she died in 1528. The fact is only one tombstone was legible. The others were sunken and a sign that the settlement was very old. In my work about rabbis from Zhetl I let it be known that in the book “Kneset Yekhezkl” written by Rabbi Yekhezkl Katenelnboygn from Hamburg, there is a religious question posed by an abandoned woman from Zhetl 250 years ago.

 

I Am Saved From the Flood

Zhetl sits on two rivers: the Pomerayke and the Zhetelke. In a divorce decree the rabbis of Zhetl would write: Here in Zhetl on the Pomerayke River.

Zhetl suffered greatly from the flooding of the Pomerayke, which runs through the middle of the town, near the Houses of Study. I remember from the years 1902 –1912 Zhetl suffered three floods.

In 1912 on a rainy day I was sitting in the middle House of Study learning with the rabbi Reb Zvi Khurgin, of blessed memory. Suddenly we were sprayed with water which poured into the House of Study from the Pomerayke. Together with the head of the Yeshiva we climbed a ladder to the women's section. After an hour the water reached the height of the windows and we sat in the women's section from 11 in the morning until 4 in the afternoon when the water receded and we were out of danger.

 

Village Jews

I read in a Russian journal that at the beginning of this century there were 4000 residents in Zhetl, 75% Jews. However besides this, many Jews lived in the villages around Zhetl: in Kurfish, Yavar, Fintshitch, Novin, Haleli, Shilevanke, Girnik, Volayniki, Petruki, Sirplevitch, Khvinovitch, Potzavcizne, Nakrishki, Ramonovitch, Strele, Alexandrovitch, Zhibertayshchine, Khadzhelan and Gnayinsk. There were villages where a few Jewish families lived and they even had enough Jews for a Minyan. (A quorum of 10 Jews for prayer). This was the case in Nakrishak, Rahatna and Sirataychine. There were great scholars among these village Jews like, Reb Arye from Karol, Reb Leyb from Khabad, Reb Yisroel from Hantsh (Kaplinsky), Reb Hertz Leyb Kaplinsky from Dubrike, Reb Zalmen from Repetshch, Reb Eliezer from Sirataychine, Reb Berish from Zhizhayk, and many others.

Jews in the villages would lease fields, mills and also did business in trade and ran taverns. Their material situation was satisfactory but at the beginning of this century anti Semitism in the villages increased and the village Jews began to move to Zhetl.

Zhetl was a poor town. There were no factories in Zhetl and the majority of the Jews lived off small business and trade. When the village Jews moved to Zhetl they opened small shops and earning a living became difficult.

 

A Story About Kopeks and 800 Ruble

Witnesses can attest to the fact that in Zhetl money (groshn) was printed for poor people, who would go from house to house. There was a Jew who would print the money and sell them to the wealthier men, five groshn for one kopek. Given that outside of Zhetl there were no customers for these groshn, this same man would buy them back from the poor at six for one kopek, making a profit.

Disregarding their difficult situation, the Jews of Zhetl were decent and respectable. The fact I will now recount will serve as an example. One of the wandering paupers hid 800 ruble between logs of wood in the anteroom of the synagogue. Sunday, when the beadle Reb Moti Nokhem, a very poor man, took some wood to heat the room, he found the money. Reb Moti Nokhem immediately returned the money to the pauper and did not request a reward for his honesty.

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Zhetl's Ruskies

As in every generation, every town in our region had a nickname for its residents. For example, people from Dvaretz were called intestines, people from Deretch were called bad guys – from Lida, thieves, from Mayschet – sour milk, Novorodek – chicken eaters, from Slonim – fools, from Kazlaytch – goats; Jews from Zhetl were called Katzapes (a nickname for Russians “Ruskies”) as people from Zhetl excelled in bravery.

 

Karabke – Community Tax on Kosher Meat

Institutions in Zhetl were supported by indirect taxes or Karabke money. Two food items were taxed: meat and yeast. The meat tax was leased from the Russian government for a fee and collected for every Kosher slaughtered animal. This meat tax would pay for the rabbi, the ritual slaughterers and the cantor. The second tax on yeast would be leased from the Jewish community. These tax revenues would pay for the doctor. The yeast tax was also paid by Christians as the yeast business was run by Jews and there was nowhere else to buy yeast.

When the Jews of Zhetl had to be called to a meeting, the beadle Reb Nokhem Shloime, with his white beard would go through the streets with his sweet voice and called out:

Jews, Jews, come to the synagogue! He would repeat this many times until all of Zhetl would gather together.

The rabbi Reb Zev Wolf Halevy who was rabbi in Zhetl 100 years ago praises the Jews of Zhetl in his book “Emek Halacha” as scholars who supported him honourably. The rabbi Reb Zalmen Saratzky, in his book “Hadeah Ve HaDibur” part 2, mourns the Zhetl Jewish community which was rich with scribes and scholars.

Three Zhetl Jews, Reb Yehuda Idl Lusky of blessed memory, a great scholar who would blow the shofar in the old House of Study, Reb Dov Ber Zhizhayker and Reb Yisroel Dvashkes all immigrated to the Land of Israel at the beginning of this century.

Zhetl excelled with its scholars. Even the artisans had their own Talmud society and studied a page together every day. Besides the Talmud society there was also the Mishna society, Ein Yakov society and others.

An old shoemaker lived in Zhetl who was called the “children–maker” since he made shoes for children. Every day between afternoon and evening prayers he would go to the old House of Study and read Ein Yakov (a book of legends and parables not as difficult as Talmud).

Zhetl also had three Psalm societies. Every day and particularly Sabbath mornings they would come and recite psalms collectively. When a member of the society would die, his fellow members would come to his house and recite psalms until the funeral and after, during the thirty days of mourning they would gather three times a day to pray together.

 

Customs

It is necessary to note a few customs specific to Zhetl. For example, in all the towns around Zhetl they would forbid questioning a piece of evidence. In Zhetl, this would be permitted. However, in Zhetl they forbid ducks and geese with black beaks.

There was a custom in Zhetl that children did not attend their father's funeral. Before removing the corpse from his house, it would be announced by the manager of the Burial Society. After the burial a member of the Burial Society would ask forgiveness from the deceased and announce that he is freed from all societies.

 

The Zhetl Talmud Torah

In the early years of this century there were no schools in Zhetl. Children would learn religious studies with a Melamed (religious teacher). Russian and a bit of arithmetic would be taught by a tutor.

At the beginning of 1909 the Talmud Torah was founded in Zhetl where they would learn 8 hours a day, before and after lunch, Tanach (Bible), Gemara (commentary on the Bible) Hebrew, Russian, arithmetic and general subjects. The first directors and founders of the Talmud Torah were: Reb Menakhem Vernikovsky, Reb Zev Wolf Dvoretsky, Yisroel Moishe Ivenitsky, and Reb Yudl Podveliker. At the end of the semester the directors would examine the students and those who excelled received gifts.

 

The Zhetl Fire Station

Due to the large number of fires a good fire department was organized in Zhetl. Every firefighter had his assignment. The trumpeters would sound the “alarm” about the fire, others ran the pumps, and others ensured the fire would remain localized. Besides this there were horse riders. The first to arrive at the station would receive a prize of one ruble.

For a long time the chief of the fire station was the tax collector Yakovlev. He was a gentle person, a good friend of the Jews and really loved the town. He provided the fire fighters with brass helmets and would put a lot of his own money into the station. When he caught a Jew selling whisky, which was strictly forbidden at that time, he would punish him for the good of the station and cancel the protocol.

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Zhetl's Revolutionaries

Once, on a Tuesday, the Zhetl revolutionaries organized an attack on the tax collector's whisky business and confiscated about five thousand ruble. The same group organized in Novoliyenie an expropriation of the postal train which ran from Rovne to Vilna. This was not successful and a few of the revolutionaries were sent into exile.

I remember at a funeral of a revolutionary, his comrades carried red flags with revolutionary banners and at the same time forced the regional police superintendent and the gendarmes to keep order.

 

How Zhetl Was Saved From Anti – Semitism

At the time first Poles took over Zhetl, General Dombrovsky's soldiers wanted to go through the town. We knew these soldiers had carried out pogroms on the Jewish populations of Pinsk and Lida and we were afraid they would live it up in Zhetl.

Our rabbi Reb Zalmen Saratzky together with some of the wealthier men in town went to the Polish officer and in return for a nice bribe he promised to protect the town from anti Semitic soldiers. He did it the following way: he placed members of his entourage in a nearby forest and at night they shot rockets. The anti Semitic soldiers thought the rockets were being shot by Russians and they ran and took refuge in nearby villages. We later learned that they went wild in the villages and murdered a few peasants.

 

The Miracle of Reb Eli Delatitsher

In conclusion I want to recount a story I heard from Reb Zalmen Saratsky in the name of Reb Yisroel Ber the Zhetl gravedigger.

One day a woman from Vasilishok came to Yisroel Ber the gravedigger and told him her daughter ran off with a non – Jew. As soon as this occurred the unhappy mother went to Slonim to Reb Mordkhele, of blessed memory, to ask his advice. Reb Mordkhele advised her to go to Zhetl and pray at the grave of Reb Eli Delatitsher. While there, she should take two bricks. On one brick she should write the names of her daughter and husband, and on the second brick she should write the names of the non –Jewish boy and his father. When this is done, she must hide the bricks in the earth near the grave of Reb Eli Delatitsher.

Yisroel Ber the gravedigger helped the woman find the grave of Reb Eli Delatitsher and helped her hide the bricks as Reb Morkhele told her to do.

A few weeks later the woman returned and said her daughter left her non –Jewish man and returned home. However she can't find tranquility, does not sleep at night and suffers from terrible dreams. Once again she went to Reb Mordkhele in Slonim and he asked if she had taken anything from the grave. The woman admitted she took a small bag of earth from Reb Eli Delatitsher's grave, and kept it as a remedy.

Reb Mordkhele once again ordered her to return to Zhetl and return the bit of earth she took from the grave. The woman did as she was told and never returned to Zhetl, a sign that Reb Mordkhele's advice was helpful.


The Excellent City

by Rabbi Yitzkhak Veynshteyn (Jerusalem)

Translated by Janie Respitz

Zhetl was not your average town. It distinguished itself from all other towns with its specific character and dynamic. In Zhetl, there were individuals who were rarities in scholarship, business and the revolutionary domain.

You did not find dull types in Zhetl. Everything was dynamic. Established businessmen were great Torah scholars, really geniuses, who later held great rabbinic positions in the world, like the rabbi of Moscow Reb Shmuel Rabinovitch, the Gnitzaysk rabbi, Reb Shmuel Khaim Reznikovsky and the Meml rabbi Reb Meir Yoselevitch. While in Zhetl, they were all businessmen.

In the Yeshivas, people from Zhetl excelled in talent and scholarship as well as community work. People from Zhetl were involved in a variety of activities, not to mention in the revolutionary domain. People said that Moscow and Zhetl were the two main centres of the revolution in Russia.

 

My Parents

I want to recall a few people from my childhood, first and foremost, my parents.

My parents were righteous in every sense of the word. My father, of blessed memory, Avrom Etes, was a Gemara teacher. My mother's name was Ette. She was a

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merchant, dealt with linens and helped support the family.

My father was similar to Khefetz Khaim. He excelled in guarding his tongue. On the Sabbath he said nothing except words from the Torah. In the House of study he would not utter a word. If he had to say something, he would go out into the corridor. Even at home and in the street, he spoke very little in order not to disparage Torah learning. He would never approach a group of people in the event they were speaking ill of someone.

He particularly stood out in charity and justice. He himself did not earn a lot, however he was always collecting. On Fridays, after he finished teaching his students, he would go through the town collecting donations.

Guests were always welcome in his home. There were often 3–4, even 5 guests. They would sleep on both couches, on the table, and when necessary the cupboard door would be removed and someone would sleep on it.

The boys studied all year in Yeshiva. One Friday I returned from the Mir Yeshiva and my father was not at home. I saw a man come in with a parcel under his arm. I realized he was coming from the public bath. He asked my mother, may she rest in peace, for a cup of tea. She told him she would bring it shortly. The man got angry and shouted that when a man returns from the bathhouse he must have a cup of tea. I looked at this man with amazement. That is when my father arrived. He asked the man why he was angry and after he told him my father looked at my mother and said in these words: “Ette, he's right!”

 

Reb Kaddish

A second episode. There was a certain Reb Kaddish in Zhetl, a great scholar, and a preacher who knew many languages. He was the teacher in the new House of Study for a long time. In his old age, after numerous family problems, he became nervous and imagined Zhaludke the pharmacist's two old sons and spinster daughter had a certain machine that gave him a toothache. He would make noises and curse the wicked and the murderers.

When things got worse, he would surround himself with boys who would recite an incantation and make him feel better. When he stood for the 18 benedictions he would simply wave his hand and we would all, as if in a choir recite the incantation with a melody.

He slept in the House of Study because he had no family. In his later years he was afraid to be in the House of Study so my parents took him in to our home. I would hear him scream in the middle of the night. My father would get out of bed, go to Reb Kaddish, recite the incantation and calm him down.

 

Reb Avrom Yitzkhak Labensky of Blessed Memory

There is no shortage of jokes about Reb Avrom Yitzkhak Labensky. He was a merchant with a very clever, prodigious mind. His expressions and jokes were popular.

Reb Notte Herzl's, may he rest in peace, was also a great Torah scholar, an author of a book, and the same age as Labensky. When these two would argue in the middle of the House of Study after prayers, sparks flew and the walls shook from their voices. When Reb Avrom Yitzkhak Labensky had an adversary he would shout that he is stupid. Someone asked him: “What's bothering you?” “Only I'm bothered, not him. A stupid person is like bad breath. It doesn't bother the proprietor, only those around him. The Master of the Universe should have created man with a defect and given one the choice to choose. He surely chose bad breath as others suffer from it.”

Reb Avrom had a business partner, Shpiglgloz from Grodno. During a conflict with him he offered two commentaries:

Whoever wants to lose money should hire workers and not supervise them, but if he wants to lose his heart, he should sit with them.

The second: he should use glass vessels, simple glass, but when he wants to ruin his heart he should use “Shpiglgloz” (mirror glass). (Translator's note: a play on words with the man's name).

When Reb Avrom Yitzkhak Labensky died Avryml the painter, who was the beadle of the new House of Study, was, as an artisan his opponent, but he went to his funeral. People asked him:

“Reb Avrom, you're going to Labensky's funeral?”

He replied: “I don't believe he died. I must see them bury him”.

 

They Are Obviously From Zhetl

In the year 5701 (1940) when I arrived in the Land of Israel I visited Kfar Saba. There I met a Jew from a village near Novogrudek. When he heard I was from Zhetl he told me that when wagon drivers and peddlers came from Zhetl he would serve them himself. He would not serve other wagon drivers. When my wife asked: “why do you serve the ones from Zhetl?” I replied: “After all, they are from Zhetl”.


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My Home Town

by Nekhemiah Aminoach (Kfar Avraham)
(Known at home as: Zvi Nekhemiah son of Reb Noakh Hakohen Razvazky)

Translated by Janie Respitz

Through the fog I see my town Zhetl clearer and more striking. In a period of world shock and division on the right and left, I see a bubbling, revolutionary town filled with Jewishness and humanity.

This is how I see you before my eyes. As you are, lively, dynamic with the clever intelligence of your Jews who play politics and play the roles of diplomats. I see your Jews embroiled in discussions about Port Arthur and General Stesl: about the occupation of eastern Prussia and General Renentkampf; about Verdun and Feten; about the Baron de Hirsch and Argentina; about Herzl and The Jewish State; about Nakhum Sokolov and “Hatzfira”; Gershoni and General Trepov, and similar topics. I am sure there were heated discussions about the occupation of Warsaw and the Nazi generals. These dear Jews did not know that this time as well the play would be a new repetition of the old tragedy from the time of Magentz and Vermeyze.

 

A Flower Among the Thorns

For hundreds of years, these dear Jews were rooted in this crowded valley where Zhetl was situated, on the shores of two small rivers: Zhetelke and Pomerayke which nobody in the world ever heard of. People could barely wet their feet in these rivers. However, these rivers would overflow damaging houses, tearing out trees and bridges as it is written in the bible: “As rivers flow”.

The Jews from my small town were exactly like the rivers. Small sheep suddenly turned into lions, rising to the top of revolutionary activity, disrupting and annihilating evil in their country and laying the foundation for a new order. Many young fighters and heroes from Zhetl can recount the history of the revolution in Czarist Russia in 1905–06.

In the middle of the highway, like a flower among thorns, among the gentile villages, materially poor and spiritually rich, my hometown bloomed. It was a Jewish town filled with Torah and wisdom among villages with dull, insensitive gentiles among whom there were many thieves and murderers who only looked for Jewish possessions and would become the devoted collaborators of the German murderers.

On the big highway named for Catherine the Great, between double rows of birch trees, tall trees with large branches, my town suddenly jumps out into the world, on a long narrow paved road which snaked uphill until the train station 12 kilometres away.

Floating in front of my spiritual eyes is the town as if I was actually seeing it now. I see it in past years when it was muddy and not paved. Jews trudging in the mud, through filthy streets to the House of Study to recite psalms and pray in the summer when dawn arose in the east, in autumn when it rained and on frosty wintery nights when the cold bit at your ears and nose.

 

Children Grew Up There

How much cleverness and how much profoundness did Jews produce in this town with the bizarre names: Zhetl, Zitl, Diatlava, Dzentzial.

Children once grew up there like weeds, wrapped in rags in summer and winter. Others were hatched as if from a golden egg that was warmed in a warming machine in order to play as chickens of pearl and fine gold…and from this they went into the world, young men and women who laid the foundation of a new society, great scholars, geniuses in Torah learning and science, writers, thinkers, people with important ideas and creators.

My town was especially rich in Yeshiva boys. Where did you not find them?! In Mir and Volozhin, in Ashishok and Slonim, in Slobodka and Radin, Maltch, Kletzk, Lida, Baranovitch and Telz. Everywhere you went you found a thin Yeshiva boy from Zhetl dressed in worn out clothes, a serious boy with smart eyes and a sharp mind, who solves complicated Talmudic questions and offers his own subtle arguments on Jewish law.

How numerous and strong were the revolutionary youth from this same small town! This was a

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steaming, boiling youth which demanded fairness and justice, not for themselves, but for the whole world. And today, if you want to do a spiritual appraisal of the Jewish ideals in Zhetl – ask yourself – why did my hometown gather all these strengths?

After the last total annihilation which devoured the towns and cities in Poland, Lithuania and Russia as fire destroys straw – you ask yourself astonished: was all the boiling, stormy life and colossal spiritual achievements of our parents and brothers futile?

A scene which I saw in my town is forever etched in my memory. Only today I understand that event. This scene solves for me the mystery of the futile hard effort and hard work which we dedicated to the world.

 

A Scene Etched in my Mind

It was a summer day in 1906. Jews were in the House of Study and were having conversations with the Master of the Universe and among themselves. Women and children sat on the earthen benches attached to the exterior of the houses and took in some fresh air after a long difficult work day. The whole town was dreamy and faint. The mystery of the past day and the unknown of the next day wrestled.

Suddenly, on the backdrop of the sunset he appeared, the man about whom we children heard so much about with excitement, wonder and admiration. He, whose name in those days was legendary. He, Khaim K. the revolutionary who the Czarist police had been searching for a very long time. He, a citizen of Zhetl who the non Jewish regime did not like. Khaim K., who according to our notion, the Jewish children, wanted to repair the world, but the evil gentiles stood in his way. On that evening, he suddenly appeared. He came from the big highway which led to the big world – to the broad colossal Czarist Russia.

He was wearing a long coat, almost to his ankles, a hat on his head. He was barefoot and his shoes were slung over his shoulder. He walked calmly yet with assurance. His lips were shut tight and his eyes looked straight into the world at large. This is how he strode through the town accompanied by two policemen.

He strode like the eternal wanderer, like the eternal revolutionary, like the eternal Jew. Like a living wandering tombstone of the Jewish unknown soldier, in a world where nations and states are born and then collapse. Where a regime disappears and a regime arises, and he, the eternal Jew, remains, demands and strides on to endless distances and breadth.

 

Where is that Khaim K.?

Later on he came to town, but now disappointed and broken, disappointed in himself and broken by others. He lived a quiet modest life, locked up in his four walls.

This was a totally different Khaim, a totally different person. Not the one I saw on the backdrop of the sunset. Now he was for me a Lithuanian Jew, a simple man. But the other Khaim K. was the picture of the eternally wandering Jew, who boils, demands, and warns about a new world that needs to be built – does that Khaim no longer exist? Has that self–assured young man, the proud child from my town, who distinguished himself at the downfall of the sinking world already left this world?

No, No! Never!

That young man from my hometown only changed his outer clothing. His inner being undressed and dressed again. He is still alive today in his full splendor and glory.

And we all stride along the old path, like before, accompanied by police who guard our steps. We walk behind everyone between sunrise and sunset, between day and night and we are disappointed every day in the gentiles and in ourselves, and we are broken…

My hometown Zhetl, the youth which were drawn from the old former source, are still alive, even after the non –Jews slaughtered millions. Young forces, effervescent revolutionaries which gathered in my hometown, the children who were saved from the slaughter, were brought to our old –new fatherland. No destroyer will succeed in annihilating you!

You are worthy. My hometown, Zhetl, a town from Lithuania, Russia and Poland, religion, national Zionist socialist Zhetl, should serve as a model of exile which has disappeared, in order to sprout anew with strong roots in our old – new fatherland, Israel.


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Zhetl Until 1905

by Zalmen Mirsky (Tel Aviv)

Translated by Janie Respitz

I would like to describe Zhetl according to the impression it left on me when I was a child between the ages of 5 –15. When I was fifteen I left Zhetl for the Land of Israel with my parents in the month of Adar (March), 1905.

The Jews of Zhetl were scholars. Even the artisans, including tailors, shoemakers and other labourers, would study a page of Gemara in the morning after prayers, between afternoon and evening prayers and the evening. They excelled in their piety, honesty and conscientiousness.

Zhetl's Jews were practical businessmen and established business relations in large cities. Among them there were many workers, scribes (who wrote Torah scrolls and Mezuzahs) and peddlers who would do business with the gentiles in nearby villages. There were also no shortages of taverns, iron works, textiles, foods and other articles.

The house where my family lived was surrounded on three sides by Christian houses. Jews and Christians lived together peacefully and I do not remember any conflicts between these two portions of the population.

 

Disputes

The Jews from this small town were divided in two camps: Misnagdim (Religious Jews who are not Hasidim) and Hasidim. There was no shortage of quarrels and fights because of a rabbi, a doctor and so on. I remember one case when the dispute between the two sides went so far that one side did a shameful thing. They exploded a still in a store belonging to someone from the other side and carried it to the authorities. Understandably the person was arrested and the town stewed over this abominable act.

 

The Rabbi Reb Borukh Avrom Mirsky

The Misnagdim had three houses of Study. The local rabbi prayed in one of them. In my time it was the rabbi Reb Borukh Avrom Mirsky, a great Talmudic scholar and a well known preacher. He was always a big hit with his sermons. On special Sabbaths the rabbi would preach and call his listeners to repentance and charity. The town beadle would accompany him from his home to the House of Study and then home again.

The rabbi mentioned above was an enlightened Jew. He knew Hebrew grammar well and was sympathetic to Zionism. My father, may he rest in peace, was one of his admirers and had great respect for him. He would defend his honour when someone offended him or when someone opposed the rabbi either on a private or a community matter.

The rabbi would organize a minyan (quorum of ten men to pray) in his house, and when he prayed the words sounded like pearls. My father and I were among those who went to the rabbi's house and belonged to the group that prayed in his minyan.

The rabbi's son Reb Tuvia Mirsky and his wife were childless. Thirty years ago they came to the Land of Israel and settled in Jerusalem.

 

Reb Menakhem Vernikovsky

The Misnagdim in town were for the most part Talmudic scholars, merchants, honourable business owners, town leaders. One of them was Menakhem Vernikovsky, a pharmacist, an enlightened Jew educated in Torah, knowledgeable in Hebrew grammar, a proficient Torah reader and a cantor. When Zionism began to spread through the Jewish streets, he became a supporter of the movement. Every Sabbath he would deliver a sermon in the House of Study about the weekly Torah portion and he would weave in some Zionist propaganda.

His daughters came to the Land of Israel 20 years ago. One of them, Helena married Shlomo Habibi, a talented person and a music lover. He opened a store of musical instruments and died one year ago.

 

The Hasidim of Zhetl

The Hasidim on the contrary were simple people, however very religious Jews, and prayed with great enthusiasm. Among them there was a butcher who was their regular cantor. He prayed particularly beautifully on the High Holidays.

During my time their Rebbe (a Hasidic rabbi) was Reb Shmulke from Slonim, who in his youth was a friend of father. Reb Shmuel became a Rebbe and my father, of blessed memory, became

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a scribe, and later sold Torah scrolls and Mezuzahs.

The Rebbe would visit Zhetl a few times a year. He was a stately Jew, who wore silk clothing, and shone like the sun. He would sit in his room secluded for meditation and would only emerge for prayer. On the Sabbath he would pray at the pulpit and read from the Torah. If I remember correctly, his reading did not move me due to his incorrect pronunciation and his strange accentuation of the words.

The Hasidim would prepare a table in honour of the Rebbe at their prayer house. They would eat, sing and push each other to be able to see the Rebbe and hear his teachings. A Sabbath like that would make a great impression on the Hasidim, as well as the other residents.

My father, of blessed memory, and I would often go on Saturdays and on the High Holidays to pray with the Hasidim. The prayers of the Misnagdim did not lure me, even though there were good prayer leaders among them like Reb Menakhem Vernikovsky. However their praying lacked the Hasidic enthusiasm and fervour.

 

Friday Nights in Zhetl

Friday afternoon, on the Sabbath eve, Jews would stop work early and close their shops and businesses. The town beadle, with his long broad beard, would stride through the streets before sunset calling out in his pleasant voice: “Jews – go to Shul! (Synagogue)”.

All the Jews in Zhetl would gather in the Houses of Study to welcome the Sabbath. The divine presence came to rest on the Jews and on the town. A rare stillness accompanied by Sabbath songs would fill the air. Poor people and those passing through town were invited for the Sabbath meal. The Jews in town would rest and gather strength for the week and worries that lay ahead.

 

The Revolutionary Youth in Zhetl

The quiet religious local life saturated in spirituality and tradition lasted until the period of revolutionary excitement, when Marxist ideology won the hearts of the young generation. The youth that was raised in Heders and Yeshivas devoted all their energy to the new doctrine. It went from one extreme to the other, from piety to free thinking, from passivity to revolting and fighting capitalism. They began to agitate against employers who became bloody enemies. They did not even stop at physical actions against employers.

One Saturday evening they threw stones into our house. Another time they entered our home with revolvers in their hands and demanded in the name of the town's revolutionary committee, 400 ruble. Thanks to the intervention of my father's friends who also belonged to socialist groups, the amount was decreased in half. Once they met my father on the street and threatened him with a death sentence.

This is how the unity was disrupted in town. The Houses of Study which were always filled with people praying and learning emptied and life was emptied of content. Workers and artisans began to emigrate, some to America, others to different countries.

These general events, pogroms and revolutionary turmoil in Russia affected the spiritual and material life of our small town.

 

We decided to Immigrate to the Land of Israel

A feeling of despair dominated and we could not find a way to escape the situation. We decided to leave for the Land of Israel. Our plan had to be carried out secretly so no one would sense we were relinquishing our business and leaving our workers in God's hands, since they would have never allowed this to happen. So, we started a rumour that we were returning to Slonim and will continue to run our business from there. Our workers could not oppose this.

Quietly, in a stressful mood, we left Zhetl by train to Odessa. In the month of Adar (March), 1906 we arrived in Jaffa.


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From Everything to Very Little

by Avrom Yitzkhak Medvedsky (Montreal)

Translated by Janie Respitz

I would like to share my memories of our old home Zhetl, its past and great personalities from the last 50 – 60 years. This is written by Avrom Yitzkhak Medvedsky the son of Dovid Hirshl the furrier.

 

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Avrom Yitzkhak Medvedsky

 

Nikolai's Soldiers

In Czarist times every town had to deliver 2 or 3 soldiers for 25 years of military service. In Zhetl, as in all other towns they would kidnap small children from poor families. The children were confined to the small Hasidic prayer house until they were taken away deep into Russia.

Wealthy women would bring them tasty food and pots of good soup. Two boys from Zhetl, Motte and Ayzhik served 25 years.

 

Russian Rulers

Before the First World War the police in Zhetl consisted of a regional superintendent, a constable and a few policemen. They lived in the home of puny Shayna. The jail was a wooden building near Reginiervitch.

The administrative office was on Novoredok Street, near the home of Pinkhas, Notteh Moishe's. In the yard there was a monument of Czar Nikolai's uncle.

Zhetl also had barracks near the palace. There were always two companies stationed there.

There were also a few Cossacks in Zhetl who lived in a small house near the fire station, where they had a telephone. There was a Russian seminary in the palace.

 

Revolutionaries

I remember the audacity of Zhetl youth who decided to overthrow the monarchy and its leaders in Russia. They would prepare their weapons among the dense shrubs in the cemetery. They also organized and succeeded in stopping the train in Novolienye. A few of the people who participated were arrested. Nakhman Gertsovsky was sent to Siberia. Many others ran away to America.

Leyzer Medvedsky was involved in the cultural work of the revolutionary youth. He died in an accident in Chicago.

Avrom Moishe Barishansky and Khaim Kaplinsky would walk to Slonim on foot carrying a sack of literature and eating only a piece of dry bread.

I remember when one of their comrades, Arzhekhovsky, Berl Yakhes' brother died. They buried him without the Jewish Burial Society. During the funeral the revolutionaries sang songs. The policemen wanted to drive them away, however they were not afraid. Pinye ran around town asking people to close their shops. Secular and Religious Teachers

I remember the teachers who taught Russian to Jewish children: Svetitsky, Itchke the writer, Hindke's grandfather, and Avrom Ayzhik Sokolovsky.

The teachers in the Talmud Torah were: Noyakh Ele, who taught Gemara, Khaim Itche taught Chumash (Pentateuch), Yosef Mutshnik taught Hebrew and Avrom Leyb Eliavitch.

The other teachers in town were: Yosele Mendes, a specialist in the Hebrew alphabet, Yudl Tankhum, Yisroel Khonen Pikelny, Arye the electrician, Moishe Khaim Namiyat, Ziml Zimelevitch and Yenkl Abelevitch. The good teachers were: Ginzburg, Avrom Langbart, Yisroel Zablatsky, the starch maker's son in law, and Eliezer Rozenfeld.

The administrators of the Talmud Torah were: Avrom Moishe, Reb Moishe Leyb, Meir Kovensky's son in law, and Noyekh Rozkosky. We feared the day of examination, especially when they tested us on “Mishpatim” (Judgements).

 

Heroes From Zhetl

There was a time, before the Bolsheviks, that there was no salt in Zhetl. That is when the militiaman went to get salt. On his way back to Zhetl from Slonim he was attacked by peasants from Mizevetz. Khaim Leyzerovitch saw the situation was bad and shot one peasant to death. The rest of the peasants ran away and he brought the salt to Zhetl.

Another heroic act was carried out by Moishe Mendl Leyzerovitch. He was standing in Shifra Leah's house looking out the window. At that moment he noticed a small girl, Basha Kaplinsky playing by the water. There was a sudden surge and she fell into the river.

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Moishe Mendl jumped into the water, grabbed the girl by the hair and saved her. This happened 40 years ago.

I remember another heroic act from the time of the first Germans. Near Shepsl Shushan and Elke Abes' house they built a small bridge. Yisroel, the manager of the small synagogue, Itche the butcher's brother in law, was working there. The German officer standing beside him was the chief of the fire department. The German told him to work harder. Yisroel took his pickaxe and hit the German over the head. Yisroel was arrested, sent to jail in Bialystok and we never saw him again.

Yosl the carpenter was a healthy man. When new recruits would come for military conscription they would get drunk at puny Shayna's and break window panes of Jewish homes. Once, glass fell into Yosl the carpenter's holiday noodles. He grabbed a strip of molding and beat 50 peasants. Many of the peasants got down on their knees and crossed themselves before him saying they will be good and pious.

 

Jews Talk

The Jews who finished praying early in the morning would gather in the marketplace and chat in small circles. If one guy's horse died, they would discuss getting him some money. They would also poke fun at Ruveh the smoker.

Saturday morning the stoop would be full at Avrom Moishe Kravitz': Khaim Shilovitsky, Avreyml Kakrysky, Aron Leyb Shvedsky, and Yoshke Bagdanovitch would be sitting together. They would peel kernels and talk about thieves from Tuken and bandits from Kurfish, have a conversation with Motele Idlak, drink a cold glass of soda water at Berl Khodzhelon's or chat with Mitzl Izraeliyet and ask him why he did not marry female Messiah.

 

The Big Flood

On a Tuesday in 1913 it started to pour. There was lumber beside the Pomerayke which held back the water. The river overflowed and water entered houses, at times reaching up to the windows.

Merchandise swam in the shops. Yosl the painter's wall collapsed and Shloime Nahinsker's smithy was flooded. Besides these damages there were also casualties. Matshuk, the medic's wife, drowned.

 

The mobilization of 1914

On Shabbat Tish B'Av 1914 when the First World War broke out, everyone who had a red card for military service had to appear in Slonim. I remember the heart rending scene of wives and children crying and young men saying goodbye to their betrothed. Wagons were filled with bags of hay for the horses and we accompanied those mobilized to Khadzhelan. In Slonim they were divided into regiments and sent to the front.

Many men from Zhetl were killed leaving behind widows: Taybe Green, Elke Berman, Indershteyn and others. Many from Zhetl were taken prisoner and later returned home: Tzale Vinarsky, Yisroel Kaplinsky, Motl Medvedsky, Shimen Feyvuzhinsky, Moishe Mendl Leyzerovitch, Dovid Grekuchiner, Dovid Yarmovsky, and Yoel Dovid Dunetz. Arl Mordkhai Kikkes was blinded in the war.

 

Before the First Germans

Zhetl experienced difficult times during the First World War. Warehouses were set up in the Houses of Study. They taught German in the Talmud Torah. After three o'clock we would learn Yiddish in the women's section of the synagogue, prayer and bible – with Khaim Itche. There was a shortage of food as the peasants ran away to Russia.

We would stand in line for a piece of bread straight from the oven. Yisroel Ozer handed out bread as Joseph did in Egypt.

The whole town wore wooden shoes. The head shoemakers were Berl the swindler and Leybovitch the photographer. It was most difficult for small children who had to go to school without eating and without shoes.

Zhetl's community workers founded a committee headed by Borukh Man and Berl Mirsky. They organized a soup kitchen. Feyge Mirke's Yisroel distributed the soup.

There was a shortage of wood for heating. They brought shavings from the highway where they were building bridges. Boys and girls worked on the highway which ran from Zhetl to Midzvinevitch. Sholem Krashinsky was the foreman.

Another job was: sending logs on horse drawn carts. They would let the carts go downhill on their own from the palace to Kalmen Sovitsky's. Ruven Turetsky, Berl the swindler's son was killed there.

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Before the First Poles

On Purim, six o'clock in the evening, Polish legionaries under the leadership of the nobleman Semoshke, began shooting from Mohilnik over to Slonim Street. They detained Motl Krashinsky who was on his way to hear the Megillah (Scroll of Esther read on Purim) but let him free when they recognized him. The organist's daughter and a Jewish man from Novoredok Street were shot. Ruven, the blacksmith's son in law was wounded in his hand. Bolsheviks were lying shot in the streets.

 

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Participants in the Flower Day for the medical aid society

First row: Miriam Leybovitch, Masha Leybovitch, …Savitsky, Khana Lifshitz
Second row: Avrom Langbart, …Butkovsky, Peshke Izraelit, Grunia Vernikovsky, Unknown

 

The Poles claimed Jews were shooting from their windows, however the Polish priest assured the Jews were not guilty. After they denounced Ele Ivenitsky, they beat him up in Shepsl Shushan's stable. The first gendarmerie was in Krayna Khaya's house. The first Polish commander in Zhetl was Sverin from Zhibertayshtshine. The second commander Makhersky was the fire chief.

 

The Burial Society

The following belonged to the old burial society: Avreyml Yoshke Khaykes, Motke the harness maker, Yisroel Bom, Alter Bom, Yakov Meylekh Dvoretsky, Meir Savitsky, Leyzer Eli Slitsky, Leyzhe Feyge Mirkes, and Yenkl Borukh Kaplinsky.

The head shroud sewers were: Khana Yeshias, Soreh Leah, Motle the shoemaker's mother in law and Kahyke Yakers. They would cut pieces without a form and their work was as good as gold, especially the head covering of the corpse.

 

The Library

Zhetl had one of the nicest libraries. The first founders were: Shmuel Shvedsky, Artchik Alpert, and Yisroel Moishe Ivenitsky. The rumour was that the old time fanatics cursed them. Shvedsky was blinded in one eye, Alpert's feet became paralyzed and Ivenisky suffered from heart disease.

Later the youth took over their work. Among them: Itchke Leybovitch, Dovid Lifshitz, Motke Rozvasky, and Hirshl Rabinovitch. During the great fires the library burned in Yisroel the watchmaker's court yard.

 

Theatre

The first performance in Zhetl was “The Sale of Joseph”. The main actors were: Moishe Rozvosky, and Areh Vinarsky. A few years later before the arrival of the first Germans they performed “The Sorceress” and “Grandma Yakhne” at Patyeh Dvoretzky's house on Dvoretz Street. The performers were: Noyekh Turetsky, Hindke Shak from the Lodz workers and Rokhl from Vilna. Later on fresh talent arrived in Zhetl and a good drama club was formed at the Folk – Shule (public school) and a second club at the Tarbut School.

Medical Aid Society and Spending the Night With the Sick

Zhetl had a Medical Aid society whose leaders were: Moishe Ruven Mordkovsky, Yosl the painter's son in law, Hirshl Gertzovsky and Peshke Izrealit. They would prepare ice, bladders and cupping glasses. Shmuel Shvedsky was active in the good deed to spend the night with the sick. Every night they would decide who would take a turn staying with the patients.

 

The Professional Union

The professional Union in Zhetl was composed of the more aware and left leaning elements of society and

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was founded in the early years of Poland's independence. The first meeting took place at the home of Yokhe Arzhekhovsky, next to Khaim the harness maker. The organizers were: the teacher Herman Frenkel, Berl Arzhekhovsky, and Mikhal Guzavsky, who died young of Tuberculosis, Noyekh Mnuskin, Zelda Likhter, Mina Leah Shepshelevitch, Hirshl Indershteyn, Rokhl Lidsky, Beynish Savitsky, Yenkl Namiyat, and Motke Gonshorovsky.

The first struggle was for an eight hour working day and a raise in working wages. They were also concerned with cultural work, started their own drama club and performed plays. Their locale was in the home of Moishe Khaim Namiyat. This work was managed by Mikhal Guzavsky.

The professional Union created a fund so that striking members could receive a few zlotys. Every year on the first of May the Union organized a meeting. When Mikhal Guzavsky died and many members departed, this work weakened.

 

The Young Pioneers

The Young Pioneer organization of which I was a member participated in the work of the Jewish National Fund, planting gardens and sending members to pioneer training camps. When I was 17 I spent 6 months on Kibbutz Shkhira, near Semyatitch. I worked at a saw mill in the Bielavezh forests. Some of our members worked in the fields of a nearby village. The leader of this Kibbutz was Menakhem Funtzik from Semyatitch.

Photo: A group of pioneers at work in preparation to immigrate to the Land of Israel 1924.

From left to right: Hirshl Rabinovitch, Yoel Tcheplovodsky, Efraim Klin, Yosef Berman, Zelik Orlinsky, Hirshl Gertzovsky.

In Zhetl we worked in Fraydl Kusiel's garden. We also cared for the garden of Meir Yoshe's, Dobe Alter.

Here are some of the members of the Young Pioneers in Zhetl: Avrom Yitzkhak Medvedsky, Shimen Berniker, Khashke Leybovitch, Shyana Leah Karpelovitch, Borukh Busel, Nokhem Broyde, Herzl Gertzovsky, Dovid Zelikovitch, Shepsl Namiyat, Elke Koyfman, Alte Busel, Leybl Lusky, and Dovid Lifshitz.

 

Factories

There were a few factories in Zhetl. The first produced cotton. It belonged to Leybe Kaplinsky. The leather tanneries were run by Yisroel Bom and Feyve the tanner. Hirshl Aron Volfovitch and his brothers Yenkl and Avreyml produced ceramic tiles. Clay pots were made by Berl and Aryeh. Oil was produced by Avrom Levit. Kurgman was a shingle maker. The following had machines to brush wool: Hirshl Musher, Zerakh and Kalmen Levit.

Those who produced cereal grains were: Peretz Indershteyn, Feygl Dobe's and Noyekh the grain maker.

Soda water factory: Yisroel Ozer Barishansky and Berl Dvoretzky.

Cup makers: Berl and Shmuel Mirsky.

 

Pharmacies

The pharmacist in Zhetl was Zhbikovsky. The pharmacy stores were owned by: Menakhme Vernikovsky, Krinsky, Reb Ayzele, Kharif's son in law, Elye Yudelevitz, Berl Dvoretsky and Khaim Koyfman.

 

Matzah Bakeries

Right after Chanukah some Matzah bakeries would begin baking Matzah for the big cities. Feygl Meir's wife on Lipave Alley was one of the first. Frumche the glazier's wife's bakery was more respectable, meaning the wealthier would come to her to bake egg matzah. Moishke Solomon's matzah bakery was on Dvoretz Street.

Motl Krashinsky's mother in law was a kneader. I also remember Dobeh and Rokhl.

In the matzah bakeries there were water pourers, rollers and oven – men.

The following always had a matzah bakery: Yosl Yente's, Frumke Moishe Mikhl's, Moishe the tinsmith, Peretz Indershteyn and Khaim Meir Dvoretzky.

On the eve of Passover there was joy in the streets. People carried braided baskets with matzah and mortars to grind matzah meal.

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Prayer Leaders

I remember the prayer leaders and cantors in Zhetl who prayed tastefully: Hertz Leyb Kaplinsky, Reb Shloime Tcheplovodsky, Reb Moishe Tentzer, and Reb Yehuda Leb Khlebnik. Moishe Ayzhik would pray in the old House of Study during Saturday evening prayers and sing “You Are One”.

Prayers in the new House of Study were led by Yisroel Ber the gravedigger and Moishe Rozvosky.

The following lead prayers in the small chapel: Niyameh Guzavsky, Yitzkhak Rozovsky and Hirshl the blacksmith (Reznitsky).

 

Cantors

I remember the great cantor and conductor who ran a good choir: Reb Eli Ber. Many Christians would come hear him pray on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). He was a ritual slaughterer and a great scholar. Some of the best singers in his choir were: Moishe Rozovsky and his sons, his grandson Efroyke, the Manor, Berl Koyfman and others. In the last years the cantor in Zhetl was Yitzkhak Kogan.

 

Beadles (Administrators)

The administrators of the Houses of Study in Zhetl were: Motteh Nokhem's, Leyzer Mordkhai Leyserovitch, and Yehuda Leyb Khlebnik in the old House of Study. Avrom Hirshl the beadle in the new House of Study and Moishe Yehuda Savitsky in the middle House of Study.

 

Respectable Well Off Men

Zhetl had respectable, well off learned men who continued to study regularly: Yisroel Avreyml Sokolovsky, Yosl Tchires, Menakhem Vernikovsky, Noyekh Eli Levit, Yosele Mendes, Moishe Tentzer, Shabsai Shuahan, Shmuel Levit, Yosl Belitsky, Zhameh Dunetz, Asher, Velvl Slutsky, Khaim Yitzkhak the electrician, Noyekh Rozovsky, Yisroel Ber Epshteyn, Yehuda Leyb Khlebnik, Kuperman, Shloimeh Tcheplovodsky, Borukh Man, Zalmen Khvinevitcher, Khaim Yitzkhak the tutor, Velvel Izraelit, Feyvl, Yisroel Gonuzovitch, Yisroel Bom, Mikhal Berniker the preacher, Areh Zlate Beylke's Aronovitch, Yosl Khaim Belitsky, Avrom Hersh Langbart, Shmuel Kustin, Avrom Ayzik, Avrom Leyb Eliyovitch, Moishe Beres, Hertz Leyb Kaplinsky, Yudl the ritual slaughterer, and Ginzburg the teacher.

 

Hasidim

I also want to mention the Hasidim in Zhetl: Shmerl Lobensky, Motl Tules, Velvl Slutsky, Yudl the ritual slaughterer, Yenkl Abelevitch, Khaim Nakhes, Hirshl the butcher, Yisroel Zablotsky, and the old Krupnik. They were all Slonim Hasidim.

 

Sons and Sons in Law

I remember respectable sons of Zhetl both in religious and secular education: Yitzkhak Shimen Etes, Isar Shotzkes, Mikhl the preacher's sons, Berniker, Yishayhu Moishe Pilnik, Avrom Ivenitsky, Gdalyahu Shvedslky, Yitzkhak Leybovitch, Mikhl Rabinovitch, Noyekh Lusky, and Avrom Langbart.

Respectable sons in law in Zhetl: Moishe Tentzer, Ruven Mordkovsky, Yisroel Krokhmalnik, Borukh Lipeh Pinsky, Yosef Mutchnik, Meir Kakenske's son in law, Moishe Leyb and Avrom Hersh Langbart.

 

Medics and Doctors

I remember the past medics and doctors who received a lot of practice: Velvl the “old time physician” (without training), Motte the “old time physician”, Berl Pagerer and Avrom Meir Lidsky. Their medical remedies included: leeches, castor oil, buckwheat leaves, cupping glasses and enemas. Those specializing in cupping were: Shloimeh Lidsky, Beyle Zelda and Tsirl Perl Berniker. The greatest specialist was the medic Artchik Green. The doctors were: Shapiro, Vafner, Vinik from Novogrudek and Yezhikovitch, who was a Pole.

After the First World War the whole town contracted typhus. The head doctor then was Shapiro. The nurse was: Peshke Izraelit. After she got married the assistant was a Christian, Vania.

 

Artisans

The old time artisans in Zhetl once held an important position in all town matters. They would sit at the table in the new House of Study and learn Mishna, the Code of Jewish Law or Chafetz Chaim with the maker of children's shoes. After he died they studied with Yisroel Berl the gravedigger. Those at this table were: Motke the harness maker, Velvl the carpenter, Tzaleh the blind, Moishke the shoemaker, Avrom the blacksmith, and Avrom the recluse. Hirshl the blacksmith and Noyekh the bent would study in the small chapel near the lake.

The founders of the Artisan Union in Zhetl were: Motl Medvedsky, Moish Mendl Leyzerovitch, Hirshl Benyaminovitch, and Tzela Busel. They represented the artisans at the bank, the interest free loan society, the professional union, at City Hall and in the Zhetl Jewish community.

 

Rural Settlements and Jews Who Lived There

I remember the rural settlements around Zhetl and the fine respectable learned Jews who lived there like: Reb Leyb Khabdkier, Yenkl Orkes' father in law. He would study day and night.

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Shmuel Kovensky, Moishe Aron Yezernitsky, Shimen the gusset maker, Yudl Podveliker, Zalmen Refitsher, a scholar who also performed circumcisions, Yudl Yenkl Rashkin's father, Leyzer from Orlin, Khaim from Zhibertaytch, Simkha from Vohl – Berl Rabinovitch's father, Shelubsky from Pintchet, Zalman from Khvinievitch, Epshteyn the ritual slaughterer from Levanevitch.

I will take into account the Jewish nobility who owned their own estates but were forced by the Russian authorities to sell: Avrom Shloimeh from Zhikotchin, Reveh from Azhiran and Gershon from Zazhen.

 

Musicians and Wedding Entertainers

I would like to mention the old time musicians and improvisers (Badkhan) who would perform at Jewish celebrations. The band consisted of Arye Levit, Khaim Levit, his son Kalmen Levit, Avrom Busel, and Pinke Mnuskin on the drum.

Avrom Moishe Medvedsky, the improvising entertainer at weddings would say: Don't cry bride, as you are filled with charm.

Moishe Rosvosky would make up rhymes: Don't make such a fuss, the in laws will pay the groom in cash.

The main matchmakers in Zhetl were: Khasheh Beyleh, a fat lady who was always smiling. Khaim Nakhes, with a red scarf around his neck. He always had a handkerchief sticking out of the back pocket of his overcoat and carried a parasol in his hand. He was tall and thin with a pointed beard. He would run quickly in order to bring everyone happiness.

 

Hoyf Street

Neighbours would sit on the stoops in the courtyards and share the news of Zhetl. Sometimes they would speak ill of others. The street was happy and filled with sales.

Vazke travelled every day, summer and winter to Kaplinsky. At dawn they would send lumber to sell. In the evening when he returned it was once again joyful on the street. Motl Krashinsky took in receipts from his restaurant, Yakhke Kovensky – for whisky, Henieh Leykeh Slonimsky – for kerosene. Velvl Hinde Zlate's - for a glass cover for a lamp, Golda Lrokhmalnik – for challah and bread. Eli Moishe Borukh's for a hat, Tuvia Idl for giblets and non-kosher meat, Yoshke Leyzshe's – for paint and Dovid Shepetnitsky – a store filled with gentiles from Patsutchin.

Feytche Yosl Yente's and her husband always had a lot of work, sewing blouses and caftans for gentiles. Alter Feyshes and his brother Mordkhai would pump kerosene in all the shops in town. At Avreyml Krokhmalnik's shop, gentiles would buy oil cake for cattle and oil. At Feyge Mereh Levit's they would repair cimbaloms. Khaim Yaverer would stand with a washtub filled with pickles, Bune Berkes – with good apples and pears. This was life on Hoyf Street.

I want to mention that this street had a good Jew, he did not speak badly of others, always wished others well and did not make demands from God. He kept the Sabbath, never tasted non kosher food, never stole a penny from anyone and yet, was shot by murderous hands in the garden near his house. I am talking about Dovid Hirshl the furrier (Medvedsky).

Areh Vinarsky was a good man. Never refused to give money to the poor.

I must mention Motl Leybovitch, a well off artisan. He participated in various societies and was a regular at Reb Zalmen's Saratzky's.

 

Old Stravinsky

I remember, and we must eternalize the name of the old land owner from Miraytchin, Stravinsky. He was beloved in Zhetl, because he provided Jews with an opportunity to earn a living. Flamuk the tailor worked for him. He also gave work to Shepsl Shushan. Every Passover he would give poor Jews wheat or flour for matzah and potatoes. A few Jews received help from him to build a house.

When they brought him from Warsaw to the Christian cemetery and lowered his coffin in the crypt where all the Stravinskys are buried, I saw Dovid Indershteyn, whose nickname was “Hindke”, recite the Kaddish (Mourner's prayer).

 

The First Car

Who remembers the first car in Zhetl 43 years ago? It arrived with the post to Meir Kovensky, at the house where Yudl Khaim Rashkin later lived. A wagon running without horses. Well, the whole town ran to see what an automobile looked like.

The next year a hot air balloon flew over our town with a braided basket. It dropped a string which got caught in a tree and two people emerged from the basket.

The first radio was brought to town by Ostashinsky. He had a restaurant at Khane Areyml's Kayle's. Before you put on the earphones to listen to the radio for a few minutes, he would take 10 groshen. Later on a couple more radios appeared in town.


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Jews Living in Rural Villages and Conscripts

by Avrom Leyzerovitch (Kfar Haroeh)

Translated by Janie Respitz

I would like to describe, as much as I can remember, the Jews who lived among gentiles in rural villages around Zhetl.

During the time of Czar Nikolai there was not a village where there were no Jews. Jews lived in the villages with their whole families, sons, and daughters, daughters in law and sons in law. They married off their children there providing dowries and lodging.

 

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Avrom Leyzerovitch

 

Profitable Livelihood

These people earned a good living especially if they had few expenses . They would have a potato field, their own cow who grazed in the field therefore not costing anything. They did not lack in chickens and they baked their own bread from milled corn as well as other grains. They really had everything they needed. They would also sell: milk, butter, cheese and eggs. They did not have to pay rent as everyone had their own house and a stall.

Jews in the villages lived a calm life. If they earned a ruble a week, it was enough – as the only items they had to buy in town were sugar and kerosene.

Jews in the villages were for the most part tenant farmers who leased mills, breweries, inns or fields.

The inns were situated at the entrance of the village and everyone passing through could stop to rest and have something to eat.

I would like to describe these village Jews as well as I can remember. I would like to ask forgiveness as perhaps my writing is not one hundred percent as I am not a great writer.

 

Reb Avrom Shloimeh Namiyat

Number one of all the rural settlements was Zhukovchizne. It was a large estate with mills, forests and a brewery. This all belonged to Reb Avrom Shloimeh Namiyat, of blessed memory. All of his employees in the village were Jews, therefore he always had a quorum, 10 men required for prayers. He would come to Zhetl with a coach pulled by three horses, as the government did not allow Jews to ride with four horses.

When Czar Nikolai put forth the edict that Jews were no longer permitted to own estates, he had to sell his property to a countess for which he received seventy thousand ruble. With this money he bought a large brick building in Vilna. He also had a house in Zhetl which in the last years belonged to Berl Rabinovitch. His son in law was Reb Yisroel Rabinovitch the Moscow rabbi.

 

Other Village Jews

My father Reb Khaim lived in Zhibertyachshine. I was born in this village and this is where my father married off his children.

In Yanovtchine a Jew had the lease and brought milk to Zhetl. Recently, Wolf Farfl lived there.

Dovid lived in Strele but later moved to Zhetl.

Shimen Leyb was an estate farmer in Bogudzhenke. In recent years, no Jews lived there.

The families of Meir and Shmuel Kovensky lived in Nokrishok. In 1929 Meir Kovensky immigrated to Israel.

Zvulun lived on the estate in Zielane. On the Sabbath there was a quorum at his place and Jews from Fintchitch and Kurfish would come there to pray. In his later years he left for America.

Mordkhai lived in Kurfish.

My uncle Reb Ayzik Lipe lived in Fintchitch. His wife was my mother's sister. He was a learned Jew who studied a lot. I remember he would sit all day and study Gemara. His son in law the rabbi Reb Dovid Rovensky was a preacher in Zhetl and later rabbi in Pinsk. Hi son, Reb Asher lives in Israel.

Reb Avrom, my grandfather live in Nartzevitch. He had two sons and three daughters. One daughter was my mother, the second – Reb Ayzik Lipes' wife and the third, Zalmen Shepshelevitch's wife. The last one would travel from Zhetl to Vilna. His grandchildren live in Israel.

Reb Berl lived in Khiliman where he ran the mill.

A Jewish blacksmith lived in Zashetshe.

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Hirshl lived in Romanovitch. His children Shayna and Eliyahu live in Petach Tikva.

Reb Yisroel Kaplinsky lived in Hantshri. He leased a mill from the nobleman Stravinsky. He sat every day and studied while his wife, Cherna Rokhl ran the mill. His son, Reb Shaul Kaplinsky was a gentle man, studied a lot and dealt in lumber. His grandchildren: Borukh Kaplinsky and Arye Zelikovitch live in Israel.

The Jewish blacksmith Moishe Zelik Bushlin who lived in Khabadki now lives in Israel.

 

Dzy094.jpg
Draftees to the Polish Army, 1922

 

Two Jews lived in Pager: one was a blacksmith and his son Reb Moishe lives in Israel. The second one was Berl, the old fashioned (untrained) doctor.

There was a Jewish forest merchant in Mizevetz. His daughter Shayna lived in Zhetl and from Zhetl she left for America.

Jews lived in the following villages on the road between Zhetl and Slonim : Bodonovchine, Zadvarie, Shundri and Kaladishke.

Just as I began with a wealthy man I would like to conclude with a wealthy man who had his own estate with forests and fields. His name was Berl Zhelaner. Novoyelne belonged to him. He managed his business on high standards and the gentiles were afraid of him. When it was forbidden for Jews to own estates, he sold.

 

Russian and Polish Edicts Against Village Jews

I calculated about 20 villages where Jews lived. However there were more villages around Zhetl where Jews lived: Petruki, Pesutzky, Zatshefitch and others.

Jews lived in these rural villages for generations and withstood many Czarist edicts and persecutions. Among others, the last edict in Novoseliene. According to this edict the Czarist government forbid Jews to live in a village if their parents had not lived there. However, despite the Czarist edicts the village population treated the Jews favourably.

The situation changed under Polish rule. The Polish government organized the peasant population against the Jews, took trade out of Jewish hands and created an atmosphere which was wired in danger.

In view of this danger, Jews began to leave the villages.

 

Military Conscription

Conscription in Zhetl took place after Sukkot, in the month of Cheshvan (October) when the rains begin. As at this time there were no paved highways and the road from Slonim to Zhetl had to be repaired so the district police chief and the doctor could travel comfortably. Authorities would travel by horse, which in those days was called a stage coach. They would travel from Slonim to Zadvaria and change horses there. Berke the tanner owned the coach in Zhetl. If authorities had to come from Slonim, he would supply the horse and wagons.

 

Recruits in Zhetl

Conscription would last for 8–10 days. During this time all the taverns and shop would close as all the recruits would steal everything. There would be 400 – 500 conscripts.

Many would be released as they were not capable of military service. However, 150 – 200 men

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were taken into service. Every recruit would arrive with a father, mother, brother, or sister, so that during the period of conscription there would be between 1500 – 2000 people in Zhetl, among them, many bandits and drunks. They would receive liquor for money and go through the streets looking for something to steal. The Jewish recruits were scared and were not spared beatings.

 

Exemptions

Now I will tell you about our Jewish brothers who were conscripted, who had no defects and were sure they would be taken into the military. They would make a list of those who would not go to the military due to a defect or would receive an exemption for which they demanded money. An exemption could happen if the conscript was an only son. That was the first exemption. Another reason for exemption was that your father was over 55 and your brother was under the age of 16. Another reason for exemption was if you had a brother in the military.

They would take money from the above mentioned guys. Those who were recruited said: they are staying home and we will go into the military, therefore they should pay.

There were also Jews who were registered in Zhetl but lived in different cities. They too had to come to Zhetl for conscription. For example, I lived in Zhibertaychshine which belonged to Zhetl, however I was registered in Polonke, and was called to conscription in Novi – Mush, near Baranovitch. I also paid taxes in Polonke.

One of the taxes Jews had to pay in the days of Czar Nikolai was for permission to light candles.

 

“Angels”

One received a passport where you were registered therefore many Jews were registered in Zhetl and reported for service in Zhetl. Since in those days there were no photographs, they would send “angels”. Why did they call them angels? Because they would go to every conscription, today here, tomorrow somewhere else. This was their profession. Obviously, these were young men with defects and they would present themselves instead of a healthy guy and of course, they would be released from service.

Many of the Jewish recruits ran off to America in order to avoid military service.

 

Dzy095.jpg
Draftees into the Polish Army 1928

 

Consequently the government gave an order that before you are taken into the army your parents must pay a 300 ruble fine. Because of this fine people had to show up. It also happened that after they were enlisted, they left for America, so the Russian government gave an order that until you take your oath the 300 ruble had to be paid, which meant only after 6 months of service, the 300 ruble fine did not have to be paid.

 

Jewish Recruits Cause Scandals

Now let's turn to the Jewish recruits I described earlier. They would take money from those who did not serve in the army, often with beatings. They would use the money to make parties every evening.

Besides this, they would demand money from the city,

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but this they would not receive easily. First they would approach the town elder of Zhetl, who in my time was Avrom Patzovsky. Everyone was registered with him and he would distribute passes. He was the leader of the town.

The recruits would go to him for money, but understand, they did not receive any money from him. What would they do? Saturday morning they would lock all the prayer houses and notify everyone they could not pray. They would only leave the old House of Study open and all those wanting to pray had to go there. During prayers they interrupted the service and demanded people give them money.

My father and I, Reb Khaim, of blessed memory prayed at Avrom Patzovsky's. That morning, when all the prayer houses were locked, we went there as usual. Everyone was afraid to pray, but Avrom Patzovsky said he was not afraid of anyone.

There was turmoil in the old House of Study. Finally they said they would call upon Avrom Patzovsky. When the group of recruits found us praying they began shouting and things got out of hand.

We promised we would all go to the old House of Study and they demanded Avrom Patzovsky come as well. He did not agree and they threatened to beat him up and bring 20 more friends to take him by force to the old House of Study. Finally he agreed to go but without anyone accompanying him.

This commotion went on for two weeks. Finally, in the end everyone drafted into the army received 2–3 ruble and peace was restored.

In the last years under the Polish government people reported to the army Novoliyenie, however the custom of taking money and making parties ended.

 

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