Translated by Moshe Kutten
Edited by Yocheved Klausner
I arrived in Inguletz in 1920, after marrying my husband Shmuel Simongauz, the grandson of R' Avraham Simongauz, who was one of the founders of the colony. These were the days of the Civil War. Trying times had befallen the whole of Russia and did not skip over the Jewish colonies. Ways of life, which were sanctified by tradition, began to disintegrate. The majority of the residents of the colony were not occupied in agriculture any more. Indeed, there were still some flourishing farms, which were cultivated diligently by their owners where the first pioneers who intended to make Aliya to Eretz Israel came for training, and there were also several colonists who cultivated vineyards which were planted during the days of the First World War, under the influence of the agronomist Zusman; however, most of the residents abandoned agriculture. Even during the early years of the colony, many colonists found it difficult to sustain themselves by working the land, and they leased their land to the gentiles for a certain portion of the harvest. The revenues from the unirrigated cultivation with all of its crops barley, wheat, rye, or oatmeal, were scanty. They marketed the harvest in one of the neighboring cities, a distance of a two weeks round trip journey, using a wagon harnessed to oxen. It happened that after the harvest of a whole season, either from the fall crops or the summer crops, the farmer would come back home carrying just a sack of salt.
In 1920, there were still some flourishing farms whose owners succeeded to become wealthy. The fact that they were wealthy was apparent by their houses, among other things. Their houses were made of fired bricks and the roofs made of sheet metal, as opposed to the rest of the houses of the colony, made of bricks of clay mixed with straw, the roof was a straw roof and the floors were made of clay as well. They did not have the sanitary infrastructure and arrangements that we are accustomed to have today. The water was drawn out of a well and carried home on the shoulder in pails hanged on a yoke. In wealthy homes, gutters collected rainwater for laundry; however, in most of the houses they washed laundry with welldrawn water. There was no rainwater sewer infrastructure nor roads or sidewalks. During the rainy days and the days of the snow melt, the roads in the colony became puddles and swamps. The main material for heating was the straw they bought at the end of the harvest, piled in heaps, in their yards. In the wintertime the heaps were covered with a layer of ice which protected the straw beneath.
They plucked the straw for heating from the straw heaps using a special instrument (a handle with a rounded hook at the top, called Klosha). Only the wealthy heated their home using firewood.
The main public buildings were the synagogue, the public bath and the state school where they taught Russian (four school years), some grocery shops and one shop for textile products. These buildings served the basic needs of existence. For all the rest, the colony residents had to travel to the city. There was also a kiosk in the colony where they sold soda drinks (Zeltzer Vasser in Yiddish). On Shabbat, after eating the fish and the cholent [a traditional Jewish stew brought to boil on Friday and kept warm on a hotplate to conform to the Jewish law prohibiting cooking on Shabbat], the colony residents who wanted quench their thirst would gather there. Since it was prohibited to receive money on Shabbat, the owner of the kiosk invented a special arrangement. She built a special board with numerous match boxes stuck on it a box for each customer. When a customer would come to drink, she would drop a piece of paper through the hole into the box. The following day Sunday, she would run around to collect the debt from the women of her kiosk's customers.
The organization of the social and municipal affairs was not very different, in its essence, from what was customary in the rest of the Jewish communities. The colony committee and the head of the committee, who were elected by the residents, were subordinated to the government authority. An inspector on behalf of the authorities would arrive from time to time from Kherson to inspect whether affairs were handled properly. In fact, the social life took place mainly around the synagogue. The building was built by the grandfather of my husband R' Avraham Simongauz, who was also the gabbai [synagogue administrator] for forty years. The impact of that man was very apparent in the life of the colony. He established and headed charity organizations, as was customary in the Jewish communities during those days Lekhem Evionim [Bread for the Poor], Bikur Kholim [Visiting the Sick] and Talmud Torah [literally Study of the Torah children's school]. The origin of that grandfather was the city of Propoisk in the Mohilev province [today Slavgorod, Belarus]. When he heard, in 1820, about the king's decree allowing the settlement of the Jews, he sold his property, bought a wagon and a pair of oxen and left on his way with his wife KhanaStesya and their baby. They wandered around on the roads for about half a year, until they arrived along with several other young people like themselves, to the beautiful valley on the bank of the River Inguletz, and established the location for the colony.
Many stories were going around about R' Avraham Simongauz, and his wondrous image was memorialized in a book by his grandson Moshe Simongauz. He was a tall and sturdy man who was privileged to reach the ripe age of one hundred and three. In his hundredth year he still carried a yolk and pails from the well, and in his free hand he held another water pail for balance… He was from among the Lubavitz's Hassidim and his grandchildren knew to tell about him that during the Celebration of 19 of Kislev [Festival of the liberation of the first [Lubavitz] Rebbe Rabbi Shneur Zalman who was charged for treason for sending money to the poor in Russia's enemy Ottoman's Eretz Israel], he danced the whole night on the table while he was in his nineties. His wife, KhanaStesya, who was the godmother for hundreds of the colony's children, became blind at the age of seventy, however, she regained the eyesight at the age of eighty after she was operated by a physician who happened to stop by. After her death, her dress was torn down to small pieces that were snapped up by the women in the colony, as a remedy for long life. Their son, my fatherinlaw, Aharon Hirsh, was a medic
(Feldsher), in his trade. He learned it while serving in the army, and continued to work in it in the state hospitals in the area.
R' Avraham Simongauz was the main rival of the colony's wealthy, the notoriously rich man Schwalbin. The dispute between them was about the position of the Rabbi. When the position became vacant, R'Avraham went to consult with famous Rabbis and under their recommendations, he brought to the colony Rabbi Novkovsky, an enlightened man and moderate in his views. The rich man Schwalbin wanted to nominate to that position one of his relatives. The discord between the rival camps was so intense, that things resulted in a quarrel. As it turned out, the Rabbi's sons were not observant. His daughters studied in a high school in Moscow. One day, during the Khol Ha'Moed days of Passover, when they made their way home on the train, residents of the colony saw them eating Khametz [any food that is made out of grain that has been allowed to rise (ferment) and it is not allowed in Passover]… It was no wonder that the colony was in turmoil. A son of that Rabbi, Yehuda Novkovsky, a multitalented youth, joined the Communist Party in his youth, became noticeable among its ranks, and later on, as an author and a publicist at the beginning of the Soviet regime, climbed to an elevated position in the party's hierarchy . (My late husband was telling with a hint of pleasure, about him being sent, during his youth, by his father to the Rabbi's home, to sell the Khametz [the Rabbi arranged for the Jewish Khametz to sell to a nonJew before Passover and to buy it back after Passover]. The Rabbi was sick and his son Yehuda sold the Khametz instead. As told, the son took the ruble which was meant to support the Rabbi. Yehuda even offered my husband to pull on the kerchief as a symbolic act for the receiving the asset, according to the law and tradition as it was customary during those days [a Jewish custom that demonstrates one of the required actions at the time of sale (the two required conditions the intent to sell and act of sale itself)]. My husband used to tell that story when Yehuda Novkovsky reached prominence in the Communist Party, to the displeasure of the communist youth in the colony because they resented somebody talking badly about a Bolshevik…).
The social upheaval that had befallen Russia brought with it a change of values among the classes in the colony. As an example, the grandson of that wealthy man Schwalbin, married a daughter of the poor shoemaker. The old rich man said bitterly: I would have invited my inlaw to the Kiddush [Literally sanctification, the Jewish blessing recited over wine or grape juice to sanctify the Shabbat and Jewish holidays], but I am afraid that he would steal the cup… The Schwalbins ended up all dying from hunger during the revolution.
When I came to colony in 1920, I was asked by my husband who headed the local Zionist activity, to teach the Hebrew language. The lessons, which took place in the women's section of the synagogue, did not last long. One day, a representative of the Yevsektzia [the Jewish section of the Soviet Communist Party] prohibited conducting them.
The local intelligentsia: the physician, the school teacher and the Zionsit club, made attempts to organize modest cultural life in the colony. A drama club, in which I participated, was established. We showed a play in Yiddish by Shalom Aleikhem: Tzuzeit un Tzushpreit [Scattered and Dispersed] as well as shows by Yaakov Gordin and others. The revenues were always allocated for charity. An interesting episode occurred during one of the premiere shows, one of the colony's bullies (yes there were also some of those), took over all the seats in the first row on one seat he laid down his boots, on the second his hat and on the third, his coat. He stretched out
on the rest of the seats, and did not clear out of the place until he received his portion from the revenues.
Our entire sustenance came from the vineyard. This was an exemplary plantation. At the time, when the agronomist Zusman arrived at the colony, my husband came to his help and went around with him from one house to another to convince the doubters to plant vineyards. Some of the farmers who were stubborn in their resistance claimed: Grapes would grow in Inguletz when hair would grow on the palm of the hand. Nevertheless, the persuasion activity convinced many to plant, and they did not regret their decision. My husband nurtured his vineyard with love and dedication, and the vineyard yielded excellent fruits, which was the source of his pride all of the years.
Our stay in Inguletz did not last long. Life in that place became hopeless with no prospects for future. The youth wandered to the cities. We practically witnessed the last days of the colony.
|R' Avraham Simongauz
One of the first settlers of Inguletz
(one hundred years old)
|DovoraGitle Tverdovsky (nee Medem)
One of the first girls born in NovoPoltavka
(85 years old)
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