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Institutions

 

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Eighteenth Anniversary of the Foundation of the Zhetl Volunteer Fire Brigade

 

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Societies and Institutions

by Baruch Kaplinski

Translated by Janie Respitz

Great rabbis always held the position of chief rabbi in Zhetl. This indicated Zhetl was considered a great centre of Torah study. One of the most important Torah institutions in Zhetl was the Talmud Society. Besides this old society there was also a new one which demanded less scholarship from its members.

Other societies in Zhetl were: the Mishna Society, a few Psalm societies, the Ein Yakov Society, a small Yeshiva and in 1909 the Talmud Torah was built.

In a correspondence from 1909 in “Hed Hazman” (Vol. 186) Yakov Zimelevitch tells us that in Zhetl there were 20 religious teachers and a few Hebrew teachers.

 

The Burial Society

All the Jewish philanthropic and social institutions existed in Zhetl. The oldest was the Burial Society. Unfortunately their record books have been lost, but there is no doubt it has existed since Zhetl became a town about 400 years ago.

We learn from A. Ivenitsky the Jewish cemetery in Zhetl was opened around 1750. Understandably, the Burial Society was already in existence. It also existed when Zhetl used the old cemetery.

We do not know when the old cemetery was opened, however it probably is as old as Jewish settlement in Zhetl and the Burial Society is the oldest institution in Zhetl.

The Burial Society was also the most important institution. Many important men made an effort to join the society. Firstly, because burying the dead is considered a good deed and secondly, the Burial Society determined the place and cost of burial, two things that played an important role for our parents.

The Burial Society also had a lot of property. Until the First World War they owned the bathhouse. All of this gave them a lot of importance and the Burial Society in Zhetl had a say in all communal matters.

Membership in the Burial Society was inherited and was shared with managers and members of the society. In the last years the managers of the Burial Society were: Yisroel Bom, his son Alter, Yakov Meylekh Dvoreztky, Leyzer Eliyahu Slutzky, Meir Sovitsky, Motek the harness maker and others. In his article “Zhetl Duirng my Rabbinate”, Rabbi Z. Sarotzky describes the virtues and drawbacks of the Zhetl's Burial Society.

 

Overnight Justice and Visiting the Sick

From an article in “Hatzfira” (vo. 138, 1888) we learn that in 1888 two wealthy men, Reb Moishe Leyb Levit and Reb Zev Volf Slutzky founded Overnight Justice and Visiting the Sick Societies. (Translator's note: Overnight Justice was a society which organized people to spend the night with the infirmed).

In a correspondence from Zhetl in “Hed Hazman” (Vol. 186, 1909) these institutions are highly praised. During the German occupation, Overnight Justice stopped its activities and only resumed in 1923 as recounted by the article by Henie Rozenblut from Ra'anana.

 

The Interest Free Loan Society

The second most important institution in Zhetl was the Interest Free Loan Society. It was founded 100 years ago. One of its founders was Rabbi Zev Volf Halevi who also signed the first protocol in the record book of the society. Apparently, over time the Interest Free Loan Society came to nought and was reinstated in 1923 thanks to the initiative of Rabbi Zalmen Saratzky.

 

The Fire Brigade

One of the most important Zhetl institutions was the fire brigade which they called “Pozharne” (Fire in Russian).

Zhetl suffered greatly from fires. The wooden houses fell victim to every spark. There were many fires in Zhetl but we do not have a lot of information about them.

The first piece of information we have about a big fire dates from June 4th, 1743. Among other things that burned down was the Zhetl church which was built in 1646 by Duke Casimir Leo Sofia. The church was rebuilt eight years later.

In 1874 a second large fire broke out in Zhetl burning down 250 houses, all three Houses of Study which were soon after

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rebuilt at a cost of 12 thousand ruble. The old synagogue also burned in this fire which had been standing for 200 years, all the Heders (Religious schools) and the Yeshiva where 100 boys from other towns studied. The damage was assessed at 200 thousand ruble. A six year old boy was killed in this fire. (“Halevanon” vol. 7, 1874).

In 1883 another fire broke out in Zhetl where 2000 people were left without a roof over their heads. (“Hameilitz” Vo. 6, 1883). The Zhetl rabbi, Reb Yosef Zvi Hirsh Hakohen Dvoretzky wrote in a correspondence that in 17 months Zhetl burned three times.

The third fire was the worst. The homeless suffered from hunger and there were deaths every day. In order to help those who lost everything in the fire, the rich man from Kiev Yoyne Zitzov and Dr. Mandelshtam sent 600 ruble. Alexander Tzederboym, the editor of “Hameilitz” sent 25 ruble.

On April 6th 1894 another fire broke out where 20 houses burned down and 30 families were left without a roof. Mayrim Namiyat informed people about the fire in “Hameilitz” Vol. 85, in April 1894, and wrote that the Jewish communities of Slonim and Novogudek sent two wagons filled with food for the fire victims.

The frequent fires which caused suffering and hunger encouraged the Jews of Zhetl to think about defending themselves against the fires. This is when it was decided to establish a fire brigade.

This happened on August 5th 1902. The founders were: Mayrim Epshteyn, Motl Man, Khaim Koyfman, Menakhem Vernikovsky, Leyzer Eliyahu Slutzky and the brothers Kalmen and Hirshl – Meir Sovitzky.

The Zhetl fire brigade was composed mainly of Jews but the commander was usually a Christian. The first commander of the fire brigade was the tax collector Yakovlev. During the German occupation the commander was a German officer. Under Polish rule the following served as commanders: Makhersky, Yaroshevsky and Kiatkovsky.

The role of the Zhetl fire brigade during the First World War was told to us by our rabbi Reb Zalmen Saratzky and Dov Azhekhovsky. In their works we find information about the primitive equipment and their participation in the defence of Zhetl against Cossacks and bandits and about their yearly celebration on August 5th.

On this day people did not go to work, all the stores were closed and all of Zhetl partook in the celebrations.

This is the best indication that the fire brigade was respected by the entire population.

The Zhetl fire brigade was known and respected throughout the region. In all regional conferences the Zhetl fire brigade held an honourable position.

However, despite the well organized fire brigade, they were unable to extinguish the two big fires of 1933 and 1935.

The fire brigade also had an orchestra. This orchestra had a great reputation. During state celebrations on May 8th and November 11th, or on Lag B'omer, the highlight of the celebration would be the orchestra. It was the same at every party and dance. The main attraction was the orchestra. We can find detailed information about the Zhetl orchestra in the articles by F. Zabitch and Moishe Mendl Leyzerovitch.

 

Floods

Zhetl also suffered from floods. In the spring the small river Pomerayke could not contain the waters of the melting snow and it would overflow. The floods caused the most damage to Lisagura and the Synagogue courtyard.

Zimel Zimelovitch describes this in a correspondence in “Hed Hazman”, vol. 178, 1909. The houses near the Pomerayke were flooded until their windows, the bridges were destroyed, trees were pulled out with their roots and merchandise swam through the streets. This correspondence estimated the damage of the flood at a few thousand ruble.

A second flood in 1913 is told to us by Avrom Yitzkhak Medvetsky. On a Tuesday in 1913 a storm caused a flood where a woman was killed, houses were drowned and merchandise swam through the streets.


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Volunteer Firefighters

by Dov Arzhekhovsky (Akko)

Translated by Janie Respitz

The volunteer firefighter organization held an esteemed place in the communal life of Zhetl Jews. They united the entire Jewish population without differentiating between rich and poor.

 

The Origin of the Fire Brigade

The anarchy which ruled in Czarist Russia and the powerlessness of the state organs which had no sense of responsibility for the population forced the Jews of Zhetl to look for ways to fight the enemies of humanity: diseases, fires and similar cases.

Zhetl, a town of 4 thousand souls, under the leadership of the following distinguished citizens: Mayrim Epshteyn, Motl Man, Khaim Koyfman, Menakhem Vernikovsky, Leyzer Eliyahu Slitzky and the brothers Kalmen and Hirshl – Meir Savitzky, organized, around 1902 the volunteer firefighter organization.

The firefighter community consisted of volunteer youth, 90 percent Jews.

The firefighting equipment in those days was very primitive: two hand pumps to bring water to the fire, and one hand machine to draw water from the river as there were not yet any motors. The water was brought to the fire in pails carried on two wheels.

The Zhetl firefighters played an important role in the First World War. In 1915 during the Cossack retreat, which sowed death and fear, and in 1918–1919 when General Haller's army staged a pogrom on Zhetl, our firefighters stood guard.

The firefighters also organized an orchestra under the direction of Kalmen Levit (who we called Arye's Kalmen). Until the First World War the firefighters organized entertainment at the city garden and at the hospital with the participation of the orchestra. The entertainment program consisted of dancing and other attractions such as swinging and fireworks. They also organized sports competitions with prizes like climbing a post or sack races.

 

A Festive Holiday

Every year the management together with the entire population of town would organize a celebration for the firefighters. This would take place every summer in August.

It was a joyful day in Zhetl. The stores would close, the streets would be decorated with fir trees. Everyone was in a celebratory mood. The happiest were the students from the Heder and Talmud Torah as on that day they did not have to learn.

The holiday began by raising the flag on the tower which was built in the synagogue courtyard in 1909 by Christian workers and Jewish carpenters to observe fires. At six o'clock in the morning the trumpet sounded to begin the festivities. The second signal was given at 10 o'clock in the morning. This is when the firefighters had to assemble at the tower.

From there, accompanied by the orchestra they would march to the Christian chief Yakovlev who was a good friend of the Jews. They would take the firefighter flag from him and carry it with pomp.

Then, the firefighters would march in closed rows to perform their prayers, each according to his own religion. After prayers the firefighters marched through the streets accompanied by the orchestra. At one o'clock a lunch was organized for the firefighters by the people in town. After lunch there was entertainment and competitions, horse and bicycle races.

The firefighters also held an esteemed position under Polish rule.

This continued until the outbreak of the Second World War when the animal Hitler dug his nails into European Jewry and Zhetl's Jews were not spared this fate.


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Our Fire Brigade Orchestra

by Philip Zabitz (New York)

Translated by Janie Respitz

My fondest recollections from my old home are of the Fire Brigade orchestra. How many pleasant hours did I spend, sitting on a summer evening in Palatz Park listening to the sweet melodies of the Fire Brigade orchestra? The sounds would pour over the green, moonlit quiet park,

 

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Zhetl Fire Brigade Orchestra, 1933

From right to left – first row: Avreyml Mnuskin, Leyb Zelikovitch, Yosef Busel, Peysakh Feyvuzhinsky, Khaim Savitsky
Second row: Avrom Rashkin, Meir Alpert, Romanovsky (a Christian), Khaim Leybovitch, Eli Busel, Pinkhas Mayevsky, Motke Rozovsky
Standing: Gershon Rashkin, Khaim Belaus, Berl Goldberg, Khaim Yosef Goldshteyn, Pinkhas Grin, Yosef Leyzerovitch, Avrom Leyzerovitch, Hirshl Volpovsky

 

echoing in the darkness of the starry summer night. It seemed the whole atmosphere was filled with sweet heavenly sounds. The tones would harmoniously mix and enchant the young hearts of couples walking through the green, moonlit Palatz Park.

We cannot say the Zhetl fire musicians were great artists. However, when the whole band would come together and play a march or a waltz, there was something to listen to.

Let's take for example Khaimke the Bandit. Don't think he was really a bandit standing on the road with an ax attacking travellers. No, he was simply stubborn and would get angry, and his anger was dangerous. He was no great player, and therefore, when he would take his strange instrument in hand, which was an old trombone, he would start to moan: es –tra –di – ra– ta– tra– ta– and it sounded really nice.

 

The Third Tenor

Or take Abramtche, who was, may he forgive me, hardly a musician, but the “Puk – puK” would come out so sweetly. At times it was so quiet you could barely hear it, and I believe, Abramtche himself

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also did not have the great honour to hear the sweet tones emerging from his instrument.

As the legend goes, his instrument dates back to the days of King Sobieske. The fact is, at a parade, no matter how much you shined the instrument, it would remain its former colours: green, yellow and moldy. No one knew what Abramtche's instrument was called. Some simply called it a “bugle”, others called it a “horn”, but Abramtche called it the “third tenor”. Why the third and not the fourth, or second? No one knows the correct answer. However, when you listen to Abramtche talk about his wonderful instrument, it sounds like it stems from great pedigree. In the days of Peter the Great the same “third tenor” was called the “first baritone” and played an important role in the king's regiment. Counts and barons would dance to the sounds of this present “third tenor” and former “first baritone”. People would be amazed by the divine tones that emerged from this aristocratic “first baritone”.

But this all took place many years ago. Today his instrument is called the “third tenor” and is old, weak, and barely sighs a weak “puk –puk”. And in this hoarse “puk–puk” one can feel the longing for the good years that have passed, when counts and barons danced to its sweet tones and it held high position in the king's regiment.

 

The Clinette

Lifshitz was an expert on his long black instrument. He would simply display wonders on his dark black pole. When Lifshitz would play his long black fife, which in our town was called “Clinette”, and his long thin fingers would fly over the white buttons of his long instrument, people would stand amazed, with gaping mouths simply absorbing every note of his fife.

I remember a melody our fire brigade orchestra played where the “Clinette” would often have a solo. This is where the “Clinette” showed what it could do. The long black fife would emerge with a language, like a plea: “Help you stubborn mule that you are! Why are you bothering with the futile to no avail?” And suddenly, the same instrument would fall into a type of laughter, as it appeared everything around, the table and chairs, the walls and the shelves, everything was laughing with the black long “Clinette”. This is how Lifshitz would enchant his audience with his magical long pole which in our town was called “Clinette”.

However there was something strange in Lifshitz's playing: his tongue and fingers seemed to always be at war. There was a terrible hatred between his tongue and fingers. Therefore, a fiery battle would ensue. When his tongue did “didl – didl”, his long fingers would ironically mimic with a “lidl – lidl”. Lifshitz would fly into a rage and from great agitation he would become red as a beet and swell up like a turkey and froth at the mouth while his long fingers would fly over the white brass buttons with such fervour and outrage that it seemed that he would destroy his “Clinette”, which would bring an end to this wonder, this art and the fire brigade orchestra. It would also be the end of Lifshitz. But this was only an illusion. In fact, Lifshitz truly loved his instrument which brought him honour and a lot of pleasure.

 

The Quiet Player

There was nothing impressive about Simkha's musical activity in the fire brigade orchestra. Firstly, what kind of instrument was this, the size of a copper ladle which when he brought to his lips and raised his head toward the sky, he played so quietly it was difficult to distinguish if his horn was playing a march or a waltz. He played so quietly, not because he could not God forbid play, but because he believed that if he was going to play in the street, he should play quietly so that no one could hear him. He complained that something was lacking in our orchestra, but he never said what that something was, either because he himself did not know or he did not want to divulge the secret…

 

The Bass

The most “independent” player in our orchestra was Moishe Taneh (Whisky). His “independence” was based on the fact that when the entire orchestra was seated, he stood with his gramophone around his neck. The instrument he played was called “bass”. This bass was as big as the Jewish diaspora. When this strange large “bass” would let out a wild roar: “Tam – Tam – Tra – Ta – Tam”, the entire town would tremble. Small children would be awakened from their sleep and cry, old people would wash their hands and say the blessing over thunder without even noticing the sky was clear and starry. Such fear would befall the town when they heard this strange large wild “bass”.

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Pinkeh the Drummer

However the real place of honour in our fire brigade orchestra belonged to no other than Pinkeh the drummer. We would lead through the air with his giant kettle drum, which looked like a boiler from hell where they burn and roast sinning souls in the after world. From under the kettle drum you were able to see a small piece of Pinkeh with a piece of wood in his hand with which he would bang to the beat on this large Turkish drum: Tzum – tsum – tum – tum.

Pinkeh received a lot of praise for his beautiful, pleasant playing. It was not for nothing that his Turkish drum looked bigger and sounded stronger and lovelier than all the other instruments in the band.

Pinkeh understood fully the important role he played in the orchestra and therefore, at every possible opportunity he would boast that without him there would be no music in our fire brigade. So, whenever there was even a small celebration at the fire station, they would slip Pinkeh the first and largest glass. Pinkeh would not wait for an invitation and would pour one glass after another without stopping. His eyes would become small and red and he would speak with half words, making it hard to understand what he was saying. He would stop drinking when he would fall asleep with a full glass in his hand…

Pinkeh would come to play a bit hungover and this would add a bit of charm. He had such a nature, that when he began to play he would immediately close his eyes and nod his head as if saying “yes”. With each bang on his big drum his head would nod: “Yes, Boom Tzoom – Yes”.

One thing I could never understand. Why did Pinkeh play with his eyes closed? Was it because he wanted to show the others that while they buried their noses in their black musical notes, he could show off and play without notes, or was it that he fell asleep? What was strange, when the conductor would raise his stick as a sign to end, and the whole orchestra would stop playing, there would always be two more sleepy bangs from Pinkeh's drum: “Boom Tzoom”.

 

Trumpet Blood

It was interesting when the whole orchestra would gather for a rehearsal.

 

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The Fire Brigade 1921

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They would rehearse no matter what and everyone learned their portion perfectly. This is good, no? But this is where the problem lay. The two main instruments, the clarinet and the coronet did not get along. There was great hatred and jealousy between these two solo instruments and all due to competition and begrudging. The clarinet got annoyed when a small solo was written for the coronet and not for him causing the coronet to be angry with his constant competitor. Very often these little wars would end ugly.

For example I remember the following episode: one beautiful summer evening the conductor called the orchestra together for a rehearsal. They rehearsed the fantasy “Under the Light of the Moon”. In this fantasy, there is a lot for the coronet to play. The coronet played the solo accompanied by the entire orchestra, one with an “es – tra –di – ra –ta” one with a “puk – puk” with sparks at the climax. The coronet solo was played so sweetly it seemed he wasn't playing but rather speaking with these words: “see here, big cudgels that you are, you cannot play anything more than “es – tra– di –ra– ta” or “puk –puk”. And I, such a little one, play so sweetly and tastefully. And all those who are standing at their windows came to hear my sweet playing and not your “didl – lidl”. This is probably the coronet sermon this solo instrument put forth.

And it appears the clarinet understood the broad hint, who the coronet meant with this “didl – lidl”. Well, what more did they need. When the coronet ended his boastful sermon, out jumped the heated, angry clarinet. The long narrow fingers began to jump over the brass white buttons. The squealing began which was deafening. Tones flew like braggarts. Understandably the coronet did not remain a debtor and shot back trumpet sounds. This would not be such a bad idea, but who cared if these two aristocratic solo instruments turned up their noses?

However, here a normal thing happened. As in every war, two sides emerge: supporters and opponents. This is exactly what occurred. The altos together with the tenors took the side of the coronet while the flutes and clarinets, of course sided with the clarinet. The giant bass and Pinkeh's kettle drum caused more trouble with their “Boom Tzoom”, “Trata –ta– ta” Boommmmm…

Immediately the altos sent machine gun fire in opposition to the “puk–puk” and “Tra –ri –ra– ta– ta”. This got the flutes squealing. The noise and commotion were terrible. Every bang in the kettle drum and every explosion from the gigantic bass shook the town. It went so far that no one remembered which side they were on…

A real rampage. Trumpet blood spilled like water. The war would have ended in an ugly way had the conductor not come up with an idea. Seeing the wild, unruly trumpets with the bloodthirsty altos he gave his first command:

“Piano, piano, pianissimo”! This did nothing. They paid no attention to him. The bloodthirsty trumpets were embroiled in their bloody battle, and his “piano – pianissimo” would help as much as cupping a corpse.

Now the field marshal gave his last command. He lifted the stick with which he commands high in the air, as if it was a white flag signaling that the war must come to an end.

And a remarkable thing happened: as soon as the unruly trumpets, which had just been involved in a bloody battle saw the stick raised, they all stopped playing and were silent. However, from Pinkeh's kettle drum we heard two more bangs: Boom – Tzoom…

 

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String orchestra conducted by P. Zabitz. 1921

….., Dovid Savitsky, Eliyahu Busel, two sisters Shayne Raynes, P. Zabitz, ……, Moishe Mendl Leyzerovitch, Yitzkhak Benyaminovitch, Lize Kaplinsky, Yasinsky (a Christian form Zielani).

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The Drama Club

by Hindke Mirsky (Montreal)

Translated by Janie Respitz

Winter 1915–16. The First World War was in full force. Once the Cossacks left our town we breathed a bit easier. Although hunger was great, we looked for spiritual nourishment.

 

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Hindke Mirsky

 

A group of young people began to think about how we could rebuild the cultural life in town while providing for a soup kitchen for the refugees and our needy in Zhetl.

We decided to create a theatre. The first initiators were: Yehoshua Ovseyevitch, Yisroel Moishe Ivenitsky, Alter Gertzovsky, Shloime Khaim Vernikovsky, Yehuda Vinitzky, Motl Levit, Moishe Mirsky, Motl Man, Yosef Senderovsky, Mayrim Epshteyn, Yisreol Ber Rabinovitch, Gdalyahu Shvedsky, Noyakh Turetzky. The directors of the club were the Lis brothers, refugees from Lodz.

 

We Perform “The Sorceress”

Noyakh Turetzky suggested we perform “The Sorceress” by Avrom Goldfadn. Solomon Lubtchansky, Menakhem Vernikovsky and Yisroel Moishe Ivenitsky auditioned the actors. They had to define each role. It was particularly difficult to decide who will play the lead role of Mirele. She had to be a young pretty girl and she had to have a nice singing voice.

They auditioned a few candidates but no one had all three qualities. Finally, they gave the role to the 15 year old Hinde Zanaratzky (today Mirsky), after much quarreling as all the actresses wanted the lead role. Fortunately they found the talented Hinde Zanaratsky who could sing and recite beautifully.

Finally rehearsals began. With great diligence we learned our lines by heart and learned the songs under the direction of the Zhetl musicians: Solomon Lubtchansky, Hirshl Aron Volpovsky, and Avrom Hirshl Levit. Later we rented a hall at Patye's on Dvoretzer Street, built a stage and prepared for our premiere.

The performance was a great success. Those who excelled were: Noyakh Turetzky as “Bobe Yakhe”, Simkha Robetz as “Hotzmakh”, Avrom Moishe Barishansky as “the butcher”, and Hindke Zanaratzky as “Mirele”. The actors were often assailed by the town's children who called them “Sorceress” and “Hotzmakh” and the songs from the play were sung by all.

We performed for a month. Every performance was well attended. Even our occupiers, the Germans, came to see the performances. I even remember the Germans, among whom were high ranking officers, would sing all week the song: “Buy little Germans, little sticks and little whips…”

These performances brought in a lot of money. Everyone worked hard toward one goal namely: to support the soup kitchen, a Jewish library and a Literary –Dramatic society.

 

We Buy Our Own House

In 1916 a decision was made by the Literary – Dramatic Society to buy our own house. The society already had 150 members. It did take long before we bought the house of Itche Bere the carpenter. The house was totally renovated with a performance hall and room for the library.

With time, the house turned into a cultural centre where the entire cultural life of our town was concentrated. This is where readings, discussion and literary trials took place. The lecturers were: Yudl Ivenitsky, Avrom Langbart, Avrom Ivenitsky, Libke and Esther Kaplinsky, Gdalyahu Shvedsky and others. We often invited lecturers from other cities like Leyb Naydus, Avrom Zak and Yakov Pat.

Our second performance took place in our own locale. We put on the play “The Yeshiva Boy” with Shaul Funt playing the lead role. This play was also very successful.

In time we performed the entire

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repertoire of Y. Gordin. In “Khasia the Orphan Girl” and in “The Slaughter” they following excelled: Feyvl Kuznyetsky, Libke Kaplinsky, Hindke Zanaratsky (Mirsky), Avrom Moishe Barishansky, Alter Gertzovsky, Kahyke Ovseyevitch and others whose names I do not recall.

 

We Open a Yiddish School

In 1917, with the outbreak of the revolution the work of our drama club came to an end. Zhetl experienced a terrible time of bandit attacks and changes in authority.

In 1919–20 when the situation stabilized a bit, the same group of activists decided to open a Yiddish school. We sold the house of the drama club and rented a school locale at Berl Mirsky's where we opened the first class.

The first teacher in the school, Liberman, truly brought in freshness and vitality to the cultural life in Zhetl. He began to organize lectures and readings.

The school was completely supported by the drama club. As we no longer had our own locale, we performed at the palace, in the public school and even the firing range behind the church.

The second teacher at the school was Herman Frenkel who came from Lodz. He was a good teacher and also a good organizer and director. We performed operettas like “Khantche in America”, “Song of Songs”, “The Americans” and “The Fake Widower”.

 

We Build a School and Perform Theatre

Now the aspirations of the school activists increased. We decided to build our own school building with a performance hall. For the library, which already had 1500 books, we rented space at Mitzl's. Yitzkhak Leybovitch was the secretary of the school as well as treasurer of the library. Meanwhile, one of our most dedicated workers, Shloime Khaim Vernikovsky died. His funeral was organized by those active in the library and the drama club.

We bought a place for the school at Tcherne the miller's in the lane. We put up the walls but we were lacking a lot of money to complete the building. The American Relief Fund sent us money but it was not enough to finish the building. The drama club quickly prepared a new operetta “The Romanian Wedding”, with song, dance and costumes.

There still was no floor or roof in the school building

 

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Actors in the performance of “The Villager” 1921

From right to left seated: Lyuba Leybovitch, Khaim Itzkovitch, the teacher Leah, P. Zabitz, Peshe Reznik
Standing: Zabitz, Khaim Ganuzovitch, ….., Soreh Bayle Ostoshinsky, ….., Yakov Dvoretzky, Soreh Novogrudsky, Yitzkhak Leybovitch, Feyvl Kuzniyetsky, Eli Bensky, Hinde Mirsky, Breskin, Moishe Mirsky, Avrom Moishe Barishansky, ….., Yisroel Ber Rabinovitch

 

however, on Shavuot 1923, we performed on a hastily built stage for a full house. With the few hundred zlotys we made from this performance we were able to complete construction of the school.

Interest in the school grew every day. The seventh grade organized their own mandolin orchestra directed by Feyvl Zabitz and later by Eliyahu Busel. Teachers that came from various cities and towns brought us news.

Under the direction of Herman Frenkel we performed the repertoires of the playwrights Yakov Gordin, Leon Kobrin, Peretz Hirshbein as well as translations of world classics.

In 1936 the building of the Yiddish school went up in smoke. Once again we were forced to rent a place for the school at Yosef the barber's on the second floor near the cinema. We built a stage there as well and continued to perform. We presented Nomberg's “The Family”, “The Fake Widower” and other plays.

It did not take long before we built a new building for the school, bigger and nicer than the first. We now had better possibilities and conditions for the work of the drama club. Lize Kovensky, now in Zhetl, had performed in Grodno. She settled in Zhetl and brought great enthusiasm to our club. She played leading roles in “The Thieves” by Bimko and Theresa in “Theresa Raquin” by Zola as well as others.

We did not tired of

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performing a new play almost every month. With great success we performed “The Days of Our Lives” by Andreyev, “The Father” by Strindberg and “Motke the Thief” by Sholem Asch.

All of these performances brought in money to help support the school and the library. In the performance of “The Inspector” by Gogol, Alter Persky was excellent in the role of Khlistakov. He was also very good in his roles in “The Gold–Digger” as well as “It's Hard to be a Jew” by Sholem Aleichem.

We crowned our drama club with the name “Arvy” (Artistic Corner) in the school and library. Our performances had a great reputation in the entire region around Zhetl. We felt our contribution to the cultural life in Zhetl was no small thing. Thanks to us, the Yiddish school was able to develop and do its work. The same can be said about the Yiddish library.

 

Our Club Splits

With the emergence of the Tarbut School the forces in our drama club were divided. Many of our actors left “Arvy” and organized a separate drama club at the Tarbut School. Among them were the talented Avrom Langbart (murdered in 1941), Khaya Ovseyevitch, Khaya Dvoyre Savitsky, Leyb Beshkin, Yoel Tcheplovodsky, Hirshl Kaplinsky and others. Particularly successful was the play “The Duke” directed by Avrom Langbart. The performances directed by the Tarbut teacher Nokhem Shoykhet were also very successful.

Now there were two drama clubs in Zhetl which rarely competed against each other. For example, the play “Herzele the Illustrious” was performed the same evening by both groups. One in the hall of the Yiddish school and the other in the hall at Tarbut…both performances were well attended and the whole town was confused…

 

No More Theatre

This is how we performed theatre and enriched the spiritual life of Zhetl's Jews. But, the 17th of September 1939 wiped out all political parties, movements and organizations. The Soviets brought their order with them. Both drama clubs united and played Yiddish theatre under the Soviet regime.

At the Olympiad of All Nationalities in 1940 we performed the “Gold Digger” by Sholem Aleichem and won first place in artistic performance.

However, this too did not last long. The invasion of Hitler's hordes tore apart the chain of Zhetl's cultural life forever. The Yiddish school was turned into a jail, the Tarbut School served as a hospital in the ghetto and on the 6th of August 1942 Jewish Zhetl with its blossoming and exuberant life was silenced forever.

 

Dzy186.jpg
Participants in the performance of “The Romanian Wedding”,
performed by the drama club of the Yiddish school in 1926

 

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