« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »

[Page 387]

From the Literature

 

[Page 389]

A Jewish Colony in Russia in the Year 1823
(Anonymous article in a Warsaw newspaper)

Translated by Moshe Kutten

Edited by Yocheved Klausner

A journal by the name “Der Beobakhter an der Weikhsel” [“The Observer from the Banks of the Vistula”] was published in Warsaw in 1922. The editor was Antony Eisenbaum. This was a bilingual Yiddish–Polish weekly journal, in which most of the articles were authored by the editor himself and the minority by other incidental participants. Nakhman Meizel, the editor of “Literarushe Bleter” [“Literacy Pages”], copied sections of letters by two anonymous Jewish women from that journal, changed their German–Yiddish linguistic to real Yiddish, and published them in November 1931[1]. The two letters, with Nakhman Meizel's formulation and the Hebrew translation by Shimshon Meltzer are brought here.

A

…Before completing the description of my journey, I must tell you about an odd incident that we have witnessed, and which would, most like, amaze you. We saw a Jewish village, with beautiful fields and fine pastures. The village is settled and built only by Jews. Would you believe that Jews, who are known disrespectfully throughout the world as loafers, can work the land, so diligently and skillfully?

The village that I want to tell you about is called Yefeh–Nahar [Beautiful River]. It is located about 60 kilometers from Nikolayev, in the very beautiful area of the Inguletz River [should be the Ingul River]. The fifty families that reside in that village cultivate their fields dedicatedly and diligently. Their wives and daughters are skillful in harvesting the crops and work diligently in the agricultural farm. There isn't even a single Christian farmer in the village.

Although they experience droughts seasons often, as droughts are common in that area, their sustenance is assured from year to year. They are especially well established in their cattle sector. There isn't even a single family in the village without at least five or six cows, several bulls and some horses as well as several kinds of poultry. The butter and the cheese they produce are of a very good quality and fetch better prices, even with Christian buyers, than the price obtained by other (non–Jewish) villages. The houses, which they built themselves, are small like peasants' huts; however, it can be said that their houses are much cleaner than those of other (non–Jewish) farmers.

[Page 390]

There are all sorts of agile craftsmen among them. They are now building a synagogue for themselves, for which they only employ Jewish builders and other craftsmen. They have a rule and a virtue in that they seldom drink liquor. There is only a single tavern in the village. Everyone is entitled to receive a passport from the “Schultz” (village elder), who is Jewish, for three months (but not longer than that), if he behaves properly and skilled in a craft. He could then work in his craft in the city or anther town. This is only allowed after the harvest season. The rest of the Jewish residents, who stay in the village, study in Beit Ha'Midrash [Jewish study hall or a school].

The village women occupy themselves, during the winter time, in types of work common to peasant women. They look for among the city dwellers, and perform the work at home in the village. To summarize, my dear friends, I was greatly delighted when I realized how diligent these people are and how cordially they received us.

The person, who amazed us more than anybody else, was the unique and noble village elder – Mr. Nakhum Finkelshtein, who was born in Shklov, Lithuania. He was the initiator and the founder of the village. He managed his businesses in the city of Kherson when the news arrived, sixteen years ago, about his brothers' hunger distress, which has already caused the death of many of them. He came out and advised them to cultivate an available piece of land not far from Nikolayev. He delivered a report to the Russian royal court, acted and obtained, 200 rubles for each family, a pair of oxen, one horse and one cow. Since they were not used to that way of life, two third of them died.

There are seven Jewish villages in existence here since 1808: Yefeh–Nahar, Nahar–Tov [Good River], Sdeh–Menukah [Field of Tranquility], Har–Shefer [Exquisite Mountain], Kaminka an Israelovka. The amazing Mr. Finkelshtien is serving as the setllers' head “Schultz” (the head of the village elders), their representative, law maker and friend. He always arouses their vigor and makes sure they remain sober. Although, he is rich, he accustoms his children in working the land, in order to encourage others. With an admirable patience he tolerates anything coming from these Jews, provided that he could make them into useful people.

We were very sorry not to be able to know this noble person personally. He now lives in Kherson, however, his son, who lives here, with his family and brothers, received us cordially, served nice refreshments and assisted us with all of our needs. He refused to receive even very modest payment for his services.

It would be ungratefulness if the name of this important man – Mr. Finkelshtein, would not remain in the memory of the Jews, although he does not run after any honor or glory. He considers his reward in the fact that people live life happy life because of him. May we hear, soon, the same good news about the situation of our own Jews.

[Page 391]

B

You wanted to know about what type of constitution do these Russian Jewish settlers have and what type of political institution exist in their villages. I could provide a single answer to both questions . It is suffice to say that all of the settlers residing in in the Russian provinces of Kherson, Ektaterinoslav and Tavriya, including Jews, Germans, Bulgarians, and Serbs have a single political constitution, without any exception. They are subject to the rule of a single office, located in Ekaterinoslvav. The office consists of six officials and one manager. In addition, there is a single supervisor, and General Iznov is currently serving in that role, For any issue connected to the settlers, whether it is a legal or any other affair he turns to that main office, which has the authority to decide, judge, allow, or punish. Even if one of the settlers has a claim against a person residing in another city, or the opposite, if a Russian citizen is suing a settler, all the legal discussions must be held by the main office.

Every village has a village elder – leader from among the residents. The village elder is authorized to punish any outlaw or a criminal to a jail time of two the five days. That village elder is the one who issues long–term passports, when work is not available at home, as well as travel certificates recognized throughout Russia. The village elder hand–signs and stamp it with a stamp he receives from the main office, and maintains a notebook in which he lists all the certificates he is issuing. There is one “Kommissar” [commissary] over five to six villages who receives the reports from the village–elders and handles their affairs in the main office, orders the necessities, hands out and transfers everything to and from the main office.

Concerning the rest of your questions, my answer is that every Jewish village has “melameds”[religion teachers], cantors, caretakers [“gabai's”– synagogue administrators] and slaughterers who cultivate their fields during the working season, if not entirely, at last partially, and also perform every required tasks. There are learned people among them, who are able to religiously rule and the conduct marriages. They also have public baths and “mikva's” [ritual baths] in the larger villages and the residents of the smaller villages go the public baths in the larger ones.

You ask again whether the Jews go in the morning and at dusk to the “Beit Ha'Midrash”. The answer is yes, my dear friend. During the harvest season, they conduct their prayers in “minyan's” [a group of a minimum number of 10 males, older than 13 required for a public Jewish prayer], in the fields and keep it short – they just pray “Barkhu” [“Let us praise” – A call to worship by the prayer leader at the beginning of the morning and evening services], “K'dusha” [“Holiness” – the sanctification of G–d's], and “Kadish” [“Holy” – a hymn of praises of G–d]. They come back home only on Shabbat. Their wives bring them their meals to the field, since they sleep there at night. In the winter time, the Jewish farmers sit in Beit Ha'Midrash, study and pray.

You ask again how do the Jews handle themselves on Shabbat where there are no Christian helpers. We have asked about it in details, and found out that they do not require any assistance, since during the summer, as well as in the winter, they light their candles an hour before sunset,

[Page 392]

and eat their dinner before it gets dark. The light the heater on Friday at dusk and in the winter time they light it before Shabbat. They light it in such a way that the warmth lasts for twenty four hours.

You ask again whether the settlers pay taxes, provide soldiers to the military, and whether there is anybody who handles these affairs for them. The answer is no, my dear friend. They are not bothered by these duties. Like all of the settlers in Russia, they are exempt from these duties for twenty years from the day they have become farmers. The Jews have been farmers for only fifteen – sixteen years. Despite of that, The Tzar – Alexander, a friend of the people, have already promised to grant them an additional reprieve.

You wanted to know whether the Jews are marrying early there. The answer is yes, however, they do so for different reasons from those of all other Jews in Russia and Poland. The reason is that everyone wants to have a helpmate at home and in the farm. Their dowry fits the farmers' way of life, as they provide the young couple with oxen, cows, horses, sheep and seeds. The matchmaker receives a good meal and fruit, but no money.

Translator's Note:

  1. The article “Jews who Work the Land” By Yosef Perl, pg 393, seems to be the unedited version mentioned above. return


[Page 393]

Jews who Work the Land
A chapter from the satirical story “Bokhen Tzadik” [Testing a Righteous], [Prague], 1938

by Yosef Perl[1]

Translated by Moshe Kutten

Edited by Yocheved Klausner

[A letter] from R' Ovadia to R' Kahana

The farmer kept his promise and agreed to go with me, during the last few days, to all the places where our people work the land, beginning with the year 5565 (1804/5). It was an extreme pleasure to be among them. I could even not start to describe how delighted I was imagining being in a small Eretz Israel, particularly when I heard that the settlers named most of their settlements, most appropriately, in our sanctified language [Hebrew]. The name of one settlement is Sdeh Menukha [Field of Tranquility], which consists of two villages on two banks of a river. The name of the other settlement is Yefeh–Nahar [Beautiful River], and the third, Nahar–Tov [Good River]. The name of the fourth one is Har–Shefer [Exquisite Mountain], [also called Inguletz] and the fifth – Ya'azor [Devine Help], [also called Israelovka],. Only one settlement's name is in another language [Russian] – Kaminka. Yefeh–Nahar was built on the bank of Inguletz River[2] and close to fifty families reside in it. They work their land very diligently and very appropriately, from Sunday morning, until lunch time of Friday, the eve of the holy Shabbat. The wives and the daughters of those people, whose fields are far from the village, bring their food to the field. Wives and daughters help their husbands in the field, during the harvest season and other farm tasks, in addition of doing their work at home. Although the entire area is subject to frequent droughts, these people do not suffer hunger. They also successfully grow cattle. There isn't any family who does not own five or six heads of cattle, a couple of oxen, a pair of horses, sheep and plenty of poultry. The butter and cheese, which they produce is of a high quality, and even the Christians are paying a higher price for them than they pay for similar products bought form villagers of their own faith. Their houses, which they have built by themselves, are small, typical to farmers' homes; however the inside of their home is exceptionally clean. I saw people skilled in various crafts, among them some who also own fields and farm animals like the other farmers, however, since they are busy with working in their crafts, the field work and handling the farm animals are done by their wives and daughters.

I have not seen even a single Christian or a Jew from another location, for that matter, working in the construction of their synagogue, which is being built now. All the workers are local residents. They have one advantage over almost all of the other farmers in the country – while most of the others farmers are drunk, none of the locals like liquor and the little they drink, they do it for their health. That is also the reason why there is only a single tavern in the village.

During the winter, when they do not have work to be done in the field or vineyard, the farmers

[Page 394]

revive their souls at the Beit Ha'Midrsah and those craftsmen who obey the law, obtain a permit from their leader (Schultz), who is also Jewish, to leave their home for a maximum of three months, and earn an additional income by working in neighboring towns and settlements. All the women do women's crafts at home for the residents of the neighboring cities. When I witnessed their tireless dedication to their work and their hospitality expressed by the fact that everything we asked for and not asked for they provided generously and joyfully, I said – “may people like them be more numerous among the Jews”. When I asked for the reason for them coming here, they replied that there was a person, a native of the holy community of Shklov, whose name was R' Nakhum Finkelshtein, who advocated for them. It has been a few years since he had started a business in Kherson, and he noticed that there are many available fields in the area which were not cultivated by anybody. He knew that there are many of his people in the country who suffer from hunger, and he turned to the authorities to ask for help for his miserable brothers. The Czar agreed to allocate an amount of two hundred rubles, two oxen, a horse and a cow for everyone who would be willing to become a farmer in the island of Crimea. R' Finkelshtien persuaded his people to become farmers and many people in Lithuania heeded his advice. Unfortunately, due the initial strains and troubles, the change of climate, and the difficult adaptation to life in the village two thirds of these settlers died. The remaining third learned the work and adapted themselves to the way of life of farmers, albeit with great difficulty. Currently, they are accustomed to the farmers' way of life, enjoy their work and are very knowledgeable in the field work. I witnessed some people who have acquired a property worth of several thousands of rubles out of the insignificant amount they received initially. However, they are not boasting about their wealth, and have not abandoned their field work or their way of life as farmers, and continue to reside here.

The above mentioned R' Nakhum, who was their guide and supporter, has never had the need to become a farmer, since he was always a wealthy man. Nevertheless he made his children work in the fields like the settlers. His sons and daughters live in the village of Yefeh–Nahar, and one of them received us very cordially, and offered us from the bounty he was blessed to have by G–d, without accepting, even once, any compensation from us. I asked him about his father and he told me that his father lived together with the people who followed his advice, although they caused him dissatisfaction. He tolerated, patiently, their stubbornness and foolishness so that he can lead them to the state he envisioned. When he saw that his will and vision have been fulfilled, and that the villagers were content with their life, he left them and returned to Kherson. May G–d prolong his life, strengthen and support him. May he live to see the success and wealth of his children and grandchildren! May G–d promote and elevate all of his descendants and prolong their lives until the coming of the Messiah.

[Page 395]

[A letter] from R' Kahana to R' Ovadia

I have received your second letter from the province of the Crimea peninsula. Please do not be angry with me for my harsh words in my last letter to you, in which I have complained about your delay among the farmers at the above mentioned province. We were too quick to urge you to hurry up and come back; we now realize that you have done well by your people to stay and delay your return. We now urge you to observe the way of life and activity of our people who reside there, and describe your observations to us. This would serve us as a shield and provide us with a proper response towards our enemies who claim that our people are lazy, and that they are not willing to do physical work in craft or in the field, and therefore they only work in trade. With your description, our enemies can see that our brothers can be farmers and craftsmen if they are allowed to be. It would support our claim against the authorities that it was their fault in preventing us from working in crafts or in the field and thereby forced us to look for our sustenance in trade and commerce. We could also state that if they open the gates for us to work in craft and labor, and support us as people who have not experienced labor for quite some time, then we are willing to burden ourselves with the physical work, like all other people in our country and sustain ourselves form the fruits of our work. This is why we are now eager to hear from you.

May peace be with you.

 

[A letter] from R' Ovadia to R' Meir Kahana

I did not respond to your letter in which you were angry with me for being delayed here among the farmers, because I was sure that you have imagined the Jewish farmers to be like all other farmers in Poland. If you would have known them, as well as I did, possessing this advantage that comes from their devotion to work and their flawless attributes, you would also want to get to know them better and spend affectionate time with them. Since I have read your last letter, in which you asked me to describe to you their life and customs, I am hurrying to respond to you and write about what I learned and saw.

An authority called Galvana Kantara [Guardian Bureau for Settlers] was established in each province of New Russia [Southern Ukraine] under a decree of the Russian Czar. The authority was put in charge of all the people who come to settle there from any nationality or location (colonists). The authority is responsible for all the financial and legal affairs of the settlers. It's main office is located in Ekaterinoslav and it consists of six officials headed by a director. The director, currently General Inzov, reports to the province governor. The director is authorized to judge, impose sentences and handle any request

[Page 396]

by the people who report to him regarding legal issues, and any other affair between a settler and any other person, whether the person is the plaintiff or the defendant. Our brothers who settled in the Crimea peninsula are under the responsibility of that authority as well. Beside that authority, every village, which I named in my previous letter, elects one of the village residents to be the leader of the village, called Schultz. The Schultz is authorized to punish all those who are idle. He is also authorized to impose punishments, such as jail time, or tying wooden restrain on one's feet, for small offenses.

The Guidance Bureau provides the Schultz with a stamp for stamping certificates (Reisenpaesse [Travel Permits]) for people who want to travel for a short time. The certificate must be listed in a special notebook, in Russian. If the Schultz does not know Russian, he must be helped by a person who does. I saw a Schultz by the name of Itzek, in the village of Yefeh–Nahar who has done everything he was tasked to do, very well.

A commissioner (Commissar) nominated over every five or six villages, is tasked with receiving from the Schultz all the reports about the affairs of the colonies, and issues between the colonies and the Bureau, and transferring them to the Guidance Bureau. R' Nakhum Finkelstein was the first person to be nominated for that role and was called Über–Schultz [senior Schultz]. He was elected by all of the Jewish villages, but had to retire in his old age, when he could no longer handle the load of the role.

I saw teachers, cantors, Jewish slaughters and synagogue attendants in these villages, who were elected by their congregation. They serve voluntarily, in addition to their regular work in the fields. There are also learned people among them who are able to rule based on Jewish law and teach. Their houses are filled with books but their yards are filled with crops and grain. If there is a teacher who needs to get paid for his work, then his fields are being cultivated and the crops are being brought to his yard by the other farmers. They also have public baths in the larger villages and the residents of the smaller villages go to take a bath there.

During the days when they do not work in the field, they pray in the synagogue every day, at dawn and dusk. In the field, they pray a short prayer (Barkhu, Kedusha and Kadish [parts of the daily prayer]), in “minyan's” [10 males older then 13, required for every Jewish public prayer]. Their wives bring the food for their husbands who are working in the fields. All of the ceremonial work is performed by Jews, since there are no Christians among them. Therefore they light the candles on Friday evening, one hour before sunset. They also eat dinner on Friday evening, and in the winter light the heater, before the coming of Shabbat.

All the colonists, including the Jewish settlers, are exempt from taxes and property taxes for the first 20 years from the day they have settled. They marry their sons at a young age since they like to see their sons and grandsons helping them with the field–work. They do award dowry, like the other villagers, according to their status; however, dowry is paid in oxen, sheep, horses and grain, not as money.

Translator's Notes:

  1. This story seems to be the source to the story “Jewish Colony in Russia in the Year 1823” (see 389), by its editor Antony Eisenbaum in his journal Beobachter an der Weichsel” [“The Observer from the Banks of the Vistula”], Warsaw, 1922. return
  2. According to D. Tverdovsky, the author of the story about Yefeh–Nahar (see page 145) and a native of Yefeh–Nahar, and other sources (e.g. Yaakov Pasik – see website http://evkol.ucoz.com/ ), the colony was actually situated near the Ingul River (about 70 miles west of the Inguletz River). return


[Page 397]

The Kingship Gives Land to the Jews
From his [short story] Ba'Yamim Ha'Hem [“In Those Days”], [1900]

by Mendele Mokher Sfarim

Translated by Moshe Kutten

Edited by Yocheved Klausner

…And troubles and all sorts of calamities are looming and coming to the city K…, one after the other, like sea waves. Who, other than the Jews, are so accustomed to troubles, that they bow their heads like stalks when a tidal wave is threatening to drown them in the angry sea, and raise their heads again when the sea calms down? Blessed be He who said to the Jews: “Go through rivers, and thou would not drown. Go through the fire, and thou would not burn!” A decree issued [by the Czar] to get rid of the [women's] scarves – is certainly a bad decree. …And the Jews? The Jews get used to it. They push themselves a bit more, somewhat hungrier, somewhat more distressed and make do with less, but trust that with the help of G–d they would be able to live without scarves. A fire breaks out in the city. It is true – it is big trouble. But the Holy One, blessed be He – He is our Father, and the Jews are merciful. Letters are being written, and messengers are being sent, and the Jews wait, and expect – but there is no savior. After all, the messengers are also people, made of flesh and blood. They too, have wives and children, and they, too, need to eat and drink like anybody else. The cold winter comes, so a temporary shelter outside would not do. So the Jews are forced to squeeze inside their small houses… and if the space is a bit too narrow – there is no problem. They all squeeze themselves more and are crowding brotherly together in unity. A contagious disease comes – and many die. A fast is announced and they recite the Psalms. Poverty is growing, and the number of the poor multiplies. Whoever desires and is able, takes his cane and a bag and travels to the overseas countries and from there to the four corners of the world. The Holy one, blessed be He – His world is immense. Volhyn is a wide and delightful country. Being a “melamed” [Jewish religion teacher] is a good occupation there. Jews move there and become “melamed's”. Seemingly – peace on earth for them; however, a decree is dropped on them that it is forbidden to study except in government schools. The decree instills fear – they circumvent it and contrive a plot. The Holy one, blessed be He, will have mercy – and the “melamed's” continue to teach.

This is how the people of the city K… spend the bad times that have befallen them.

During those days, the rumor about the colonies arrived at the city – the authorities were giving land to the Jews to settle and work it. That rumor spread like a flame and passed from mouth to ear. Many versions heaped on top of each other and got so twisted that they became impossible to untangle. What colonies? Where are these colonies? How do they give land?

The opinions were divided on this issue. Group after group of people fought with shrieked angry voices, arguments and curses.

– “Please Rabbi Zelig” – pleads lame Khaikel, who would give his soul for the colonies –

[Page 398]

“you – the philosopher, the big awe–inspiring scholar with your ‘blah–blah' and your humdrum please tell me what it means, this thing, which can be a life–line for the Jews, a thing that you should not simply dismiss by frowning. Please talk to me in a regular people's spoken language not in your usual “blah–blah” and humdrum language.

– “What would I say to you – Khaikel, if you are… please forgive me” – Rabi Zelig responded, frowning, pinching a wisp from his flaky tobacco, and placing it in his nose – “you do not understand the meaning of things and their essence. They give away colonies? Why? People do not give away things for no reason. Khaikel goes, and becomes a nobleman and estate owner? ‘blah’ and a hundred times ‘blah’!“

– I tell the same things to my Feibush – Yekle, one of the “magid's” [Jewish preacher] grandsons, joins our discussion – “you are asking to be an earl, Feibush? Isn't that so? This matter, I say, has the form of things that are gentile…”goy”… pagan, who absorbs forty [lashes], pardon your honor; and not only that, they say: for every negligence in working the land, or any other small offense, they would sentence the sinner to military service, or send him to the persecution country – Siberia. “Feibush”, I say to him, you are a “melamed”, and that is what you have done all of your life. Continue to be a “melamed” in the future. You imagination that you have been impregnated last night, for example, and there is a goy in your womb, is nonsense. No, Feibush, the hands are Jacob's hands not Esau's. [in Genesis 27:22 – “The voice is the voice of Jacob, but the hands are the hands of Esau”].

– “We do not want to go to these nearby provinces” – a voice is breaking out from another group gathered at the “ Beit ha'Midrash” “We do not want these provinces, even if they give us houses full of gold and silver. It is better if we go to those places – Ekaterinoslav and Kherson”.

– “May it be as you say” – many voices can be heard coming from that group – “but the money, the money [where would that come from]?”

– The money – they give it…! There is money…! There will be money…! Be quiet and let us hear what Rabbi Khaim has to say! …and what is Rabbi Khaim saying? He is saying that we need to call an assembly. Let us have an assembly!”

And that was what has been found out about the colonies at the assembly of the congregation:

Many of the Jews from “White Russia” [Belarus], and those who were expelled from the villages, settled in 1806, as they have requested. It was done with the kingship's support and money on its land in “New Russia” [southern Ukraine]. Subsequently, in 1810, a decree was issued that no more Jews would be sent there, since the money to settle them has been exhausted. Jews have been allowed to settle nine years later; however, all of the expenses were on their own account. Four years later, the decree forbidding the Jews from settling has been renewed. According to the 1835 and 1847 laws, Jews were allowed to settle as farmers on public land, throughout the entire Pale of Settlement, particularly in the provinces of Ekaterinoslav and Kherson. The expenses of the settlers were born by the Jewish public through the ”meat tax”. Since the Jewish population would have to cover the expenses of the settlers, the people left the matter of the settlement for a discussion in the following assembly.

Like all other gatherings, the following gatherings were a waste of time involving just futile talk without any real results. The settlement required money, but the congregation did not have any. Not only was it poor and deprived, it owed taxes and property taxes, which were collected forcibly. Every member, from the young to the old

[Page 399]

was filled with sorrow and all were asking: “what would happen to us at the end?” In “ Beit ha'Midrash”, Jews were discussing the coming of the “Messiah”, calculating and announcing a new date of the coming, based on what a certain Rabbi, a Jewish great scholar, found in a phrase [which predicts the date]. That rumor calmed their spirit and hope was shining in their eyes. They got stirred up and said: “Be strong and we will be strengthened – the Jewish nation would survive”! The leaders of the communities would gather often, sitting and discussing the affairs of the congregation. At the end they would stand, sigh, and pray: “Please G–d – save your people – the Jews! Alas, their situation is poor and destitute”!

A story was told about the congregation leaders who gathered for a dinner, during a winter night, at the home of Rabbi Khaim. The frost was horrible during that night. The moon was shining in the sky, and the ice was sparkling like gems gracefully embellishing the new snow–gown that adorned the land, like a gift sent by the bright stars. That night was made solely for pleasure and for lovers' outing. However, pleasure was not on the mind of the Jews of the city of K… Stillness and silence prevailed outside and not a soul could be seen. The community leaders were sitting around the table besides a warm heater, and discussing the affairs of the congregation.

As they were talking, moaning and groaning, the door opened from the outside, and a frozen stream like a dark–edged pillar of haze broke into the house. A sound of footsteps with a peculiar creak was heard, and a human figure emerged from the pillar of haze.

“Lippa”! – all said unanimously – “Shalom Aleichem”, Lippa!”

Lippa was from among the home owners. Forty years old, he was a clever and sharp man, diligent, goodhearted, like those poor people who were happy even when they were oppressed. He treated people nicely and was loved by all the people in the city. When the rumor about the colonies arrived, he did not open his mouth in longwinded arguments, or tried to be wise like many others. Instead he went to the district city and from there to the provincial city to get informed and to learn about that matter, and how could he become involved.

Lippa replied softly to each and every one, flapping the wings of his cloak, shaking the frozen flakes of snow and warming himself against the flaming fireplace. Everyone looked at him lovingly. All of a sudden they all opened their mouths, smiling and pointing at his feet:

“Lippa, what are these?”

“Lapti's” answered Lippa calmly.

“The days of Purim” have not arrived as of yet, and here you are – wearing a costume and play a game with us” – they said to him and laughed loudly.

They were not laughing without a reason. “Lapti's were boots braided of reed that the simple peasants in Lithuania were wearing over pieces of rugs on their feet. The “boots” had strips which they tied around their lower leg from the knee to the ankle. A Jew, even the poorest of the poor, would rather walk with the back of his heel exposed, or even go barefoot, but would not ever wear lapti's, as this would be like eating pork. A Jew would never wear “lapti's” except during one of two joyful occasions – a joker who wears a costume of a peasant on the holiday of Purim, or a comedian at a wedding bawl.

[Page 400]

“I am not wearing a costume. I am truly a farmer now” – responded Lippa, smiling cunningly: – In order to avoid bothering myself and announce separately to every one of my town people, and have a long discussion about it with every one, I reconsidered and decided to wear lapti's on my legs – “here, my Jewish brothers, observe and know who I am, and leave me be”.

“If that is the case”, says Rabbi Khaim, observing Lippa lovingly and earnestly – “tell us Lippa, everything, in detail.”

Lippa did not refuse, and he explained the issue of the colonies thoroughly, with all of its details and the laws associated with it. He told about everything he has experienced, until he found friends he liked, and they established an association, planning to settle in one colony in the province of Kherson.

“And the money?” – asked the community leaders, extending puzzling and urging faces – “Where would you find the money? After all, the congregation cash box is empty.”

– “Calm down”! – Lippa tells them calmly – “an angel does not perform two missions at the same time, but an agile Jew, does do many tasks at the same time. When I was busy dealing with the colonies affair, G–d made me an emissary in finding a match for the daughter of a certain person. I became a matchmaker and earned money. From that money, I gave some to my association's cash box, and a bit for the sustenance of my wife and daughter. I will take the rest, along with the money I will receive from selling my belongings and housewares – and if I would need a little bit more money – I am sure, my people, that you would help me”.

Sara offered the guests fatty delicacies, wine and gels, and invited them to refresh themselves with the food.

– “For next year” – said Lippa with a friendly smile – “I will send you, G–d's willing, fat geese from my colony as a gift. As the song being sung today, over there:

G–d commanded the blessing to come, the grocery is not costly –

A goat for two Zuz, and a chicken for a Ksita


[Page 401]

Jews who Work the Land
From an article in the newspaper “ha'Shakhar”, Seventh Year, Vienna, 5636 (1876)

by Aviezer Mi'Kandiya[1]

Translated by Moshe Kutten

Edited by Yocheved Klausner

At the end of the article, the editor of the newspaper noted that the article was provided by the scholar Y. L. Gordon; however, the poet probably preferred to publish it under the above mentioned name.

It is very pleasant to see the spring in one of the colonies. Very early at dawn on Sunday, the people go out for their activities and work – plowing, seeding or loosening the soil. Sunday follows the Shabbat when the people rest and find serenity for their tired soul and body from the six days of hard working. Before leaving, the plowing convoys stand in the streets of the colony until they are loaded with the needed provisions. The plowing convoy consists of several elements. First in the convoy is a covered wagon laden with sacks of seeds, food and provisions, cooking wares and field tools. Following it is the long wagon, filled with fodder and hay, and a big water barrel for the workers and their animals. The field plots of the colonies are narrow and long. Their width is about two versta's [an old Russian unit – about .663 miles] and their length as long as twenty versta's. Not every plot contains a well, and there are colonies, such as “Tova” [“Good”] and “A'havat–Avoda” [“Love of Work”], that not only do not have wells in their fields, but also the water from the well within the colony is too bitter and salty to drink. The residents in these colonies have to fill up on water from very deep wells located far from their colony. Hauling the water on a wagon pulled by horses, for themselves and for their animals, requires a substantial amount of effort. Next in the plowing convoy comes the plow and the four wheel harrow with its three spades and the cultivation tools to loosen the soil and then pairs of riding horses (that could not be harnessed to a plow or a wagon), with Jewish riders driving them.

About twenty to thirty plowing convoys leave for the fields from each colony. The convoys are accompanied by the loud whistling of the farmers, their wives and their children (which is a testimony to their joy about the fact that the days of fall and winter, days that nobody needs, are gone, and to the hope in their heart that G–d would give his blessing to fill their barns with grain, the fruit of their land, as a compensation for the drought years). Also noisy is the rattling of the wheels, and the neighing of the horses, which, for three whole months, have been standing by their mangers, fattening themselves with barley seeds, idle from any work. Only at dusk could they gallop proudly in their run through the settlement's streets to the well to drink. Adding to the cacophony was the whistling of the sheep and the cattle, which had just given their udders' milk to the owners and are being driven out in herds to pasture in the field. The uproar of that commotion, mixed with the chirping of every poultry and house animal, sweetens the glorified spring splendor, like coming from a choir of divine poets.

During the harvest, crops ingathering and threshing, the Jewish farmers are kept very busy. Whoever has not been a witness, with one's own eyes, to the diligence of these Jewish farmers, their agility and perseverance at these tasks, has never

[Page 402]

seen diligence and perseverance of Jews. Husband and wife, father and sons maintain the counting of the required weeks to the harvest, ingathering and threshing; a youth of seventeen years old, is standing fully erect and powerful on the tall heap, and with a strong voice and a heart–warming laughter he calls those around him who stand on the wagons. They are holding long pitch forks, and streams of sweat are dripping down their faces like water. They lift up, with a lot of effort, one sheaf after the other. If the lifter misses its target, or if the load is too heavy, due to the long leverage of the sheaf at the top of the pitchfork, the sheaf falls down and may take the lifter with it, throwing him down to the ground, crushing his or her skull. “Oh, come on you weary people! Bring up sheaves! Why are you waiting?” With these sayings, the youth takes revenge over the lifters who, in the beginning, when they had laid down the foundations for the heap on the bottom, they fed him the sheaves in a hurry, and did not let him rest, even for a minute, until he lost the strength to stand on his feet. The lifters are boys and girls, thirteen years old. They are already skilled in harnessing mighty horses and driving them, and performing any other farm work.

It is difficult to believe that a Jewish boy, thirteen years old, plows with horses or arranges a silo of hay as long as ten floors and as high as two or three, all of that with skilled hands of a craftsman. I was fortunate to witness these things at the time they have occurred in the colonies day by day. I heard that the Russian farmers were astonished at the diligence of the Jewish youths. They said “It is difficult to find boys among us who are as agile at work as the Jewish children. Why would we speak badly of them or the older adults who work like an ox and a donkey carrying their load? The Jewish farmers perform the threshing in order and proper organization”. The youth is standing at the center of the threshing surface, – which has been flattened by a circular roller and drives the horses, harnessed to threshing stones, in the circle around it. His siblings and parents along with their hired workers, all are holding a three tooth pitchfork or a rake, turning the upper layer of threshed crops, carrying the hay to the barn, and spreading the grain and the chaff into the winnowers. They work during the entire season of the ingathering and threshing, which lasts, in a good year, from the [Jewish] month of Av [July–August], until the winter. The noise of the wheels rumbling, the clatter of the winnowers, the shouts of the workers and their whistling which comes from all the directions, can be heard all day and night, particularly during the day on Friday, when the workers are in a hurry to complete their work before the coming of the Shabbat. Even the delicate housewife leaves the cooking chores, and the “Hatmana” for Shabbat [covering a cooked food to keep it hot for Shabbat] to her younger daughter and hurries up to help complete the threshing and winnowing work, collect the chaff and sweep the threshing floor before Shabbat, so that the crops would not be exposed on the threshing floor and be ruined by rain.

Although working the land is hard physical work involving sweat and effort, it is also satisfying and pleasant. If G–d blesses them with timely rains, their fields yield abundant food, their barns become filled with grain and their wallets with money. However, years of drought, and cattle diseases, which befall that area from time to time, cause havoc to their property and fruits of their effort, and decimate it.

These stories are not told for the sake of telling stories. Many real and wonderful activities, performed under the sun, serve as testimony and evidence of their truthfulness.

Translator's Note:

  1. Kandiya is the ancient name of Heraklion – the capital of Crete. Another famous Rabbi – Rabbi Yosef Shlomo Delmedigo is also known as the Yashar [honest in Hebrew] from Kandiya. return

 

« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »


This material is made available by JewishGen, Inc. and the Yizkor Book Project for the purpose of
fulfilling our mission of disseminating information about the Holocaust and destroyed Jewish communities.
This material may not be copied, sold or bartered without JewishGen, Inc.'s permission. Rights may be reserved by the copyright holder.


JewishGen, Inc. makes no representations regarding the accuracy of the translation. The reader may wish to refer to the original material for verification.
JewishGen is not responsible for inaccuracies or omissions in the original work and cannot rewrite or edit the text to correct inaccuracies and/or omissions.
Our mission is to produce a translation of the original work and we cannot verify the accuracy of statements or alter facts cited.

  Jewish Farmers in Russian Fields     Yizkor Book Project     JewishGen Home Page


Yizkor Book Director, Lance Ackerfeld
This web page created by Jason Hallgarten

Copyright © 1999-2021 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 25 Nov 2018 by JH