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(According to the alphabet)

Jonaver Buraliakes (ruffians), Beni–Zuskes, ganovim (thieves), Zhulikes (crooks), Chalalech

From Lita Buch, Yiddish, given over by Sudarskin in America

{Translator's note: This is a list of Yiddish or slag terms used as nicknames. I transliterated the original, and translated those that I could, putting the translation in parentheses.}

Oybershter (G–d), Eibiker Kavalier (eternal Cavalier), Indik (turkey), Ochs (ox), Aho

Bande (gang), Baal–Guf (Fatso), Bas, Blinde (Blind), Balshevikes (Bolshevik), Balerina (Ballerina), Bulbe (Potato), Bok (He Goat), Bushlen (Storks), Bul

Gimpel[1], Greizik (Grey haired), Grobachka (Fatso), Geller (Yellow)

Dos (This)

Hotz, Hoicher (Tall), Hoiker (Hunchback), Hinerchaper (Chicken Snatcher), Himel–Dreier (Sky Wanderer), Hiltzerner Rav (Wooden Rabbi)

Vagen Vasser (Wagon Water), Vaz (Vase)

Zhulik (Crook)

Chalulim (Profane Ones), Chazirim (Pigs)

Terk (Turk), Trante (Rag), Teletze (Heifer), Tuchle (Stale), Tumtum (Person of indeterminate sex), Troide, Tshigun

Ya Nia Tshlavek

Lord (lord), Lipele, Lachterne

Mamzer (Bastard), Matei, Matamid

Neger (Negro), Nem An

Seske, Samures, Sneitshukes, Smaktshe (Sucker), Skrizale

Feigele (Bird or Homosexual), Pudele (Poodle), Feiem (Fairy), Pak Geld (Bundle of Money), Puterbande (Band of Butter), Ferdganav (Horse Thief), Perler (Pearler), Padak Meise, Frentke Kravetz, Pustines (Idle Ones), Presole, Poilisher (Polish), Pas–Pas, Patshukes, Pitem

Tzap (He Goat), Tzig (Goat), Tzimes (Vegetable stew), Tzigeiner (Gypsy), Tzande

Karn in Drerd (Rye in the Ground), Konsuli (Consul), Kapitan (Captain), Koze, Kozak (Cossack), Kot, Kophar (Head of Hair), Krume Kop (Crooked Head), Kop Tzapke (Goat Head), Krupnik (Barley Soup), Kazak (Cossack), Kurtzer (Shorty), Kapuste (Cabbage), Kishkenik (Gut Person), Kotzapes (Nicknames), Kutkelach, Krishzelikes, Kololinke, Konke.

Rok Zich, Rodel

Schvalb (Swallow), Schvartzer (Dark One), Shvitzer (Braggart), Schnaps (Liquor), Shveshke, Shalos–Seudos (Third Sabbath Meal), Schnarch (Snore), Shisenberg, Shafaya

Translator's Footnote

  1. A surname. Evidently from the story by Isaac Bashevis Singer, Gimpel the Fool.Return

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Our Talmud Torah

by Yisrael Yaakov Pogir

Our Jewish children of Jonava, who were born in the time when the Haskala (Enlightenment) and Zionism pervaded our hometown, were of the most fortunate and perhaps among the first whose way of life was brightened by a fundamental education. Aside from studying Torah and religion, they also studied general knowledge and good deeds.

At the beginning of the 20th century, a fine, beautiful building was built on a large tract of land on Breizer Street. There were two classrooms on each side of the corridor. One could play, be marked, and sting one's hand. The floors in all the rooms were very smooth.

From one side of the fence, across the way from Areh Yankel's alleyway, there was a door for bringing in wood for heating. At the other side, next to Chana Eizik's well, there was a door for exiting to the yard. The key was with Nese the Goat, who cleaned the classrooms and lit the ovens in the wintertime before the children and teachers arrived.


Cheders and Melamdim

The new term in the cheders began twice a year, after Passover and after Sukkot. During the intermediate days of the festival – was there any income from tuition? One was certain that G–d would provide. Others were worried.

The new friends would speak the praises of their previous rebbes. One would say that Reb Shmaya the Angry would bite his beard when he got angry / and we pinched him with pranks. A second one would say: My rebbe Shimon David would, for every little thing / would drum my ear with a shalshelet melody[1] / until tears would come out of the eyes / therefore my right ear grew longer. The third would say: My rebbe, Yisrael David the Shochet [ritual slaughterer] of Shul Gasse, would often stick me with his pointer / “Recite it already, nu”. The lesson had not yet crashed through my head. The fourth said: My rebbe, Reb Yankel, numbered aleph, beis, gimel, daled and whipped / Everything about this I remember well and always know. That which I need to remember and know – I do not know today. However, the beating I remember. The students that remained from the previous term, shook their heads and uttered in a cheerless tone, “You too will not lick honey from our rebbe” / The rebbe prepared a new stick.

My friend's father did not work on Chol Hamoed. He swayed at the table and said, “You know, my child, you have already grown. It is time to begin to learn about Judaism.” He opened a Siddur, and said, “Recite my child, kometz aleph is oh.” When I repeated it, a kopeck fell upon the table with a clang. My mother, brother, and sister said that an angel from heaven threw the kopeck at me. My father said to me that if I learn well, the angel would always throw kopecks at me.

On the morning after Passover, his[2] mother took his hand and led him to Reb Yisrael David the teacher on Breizer Street. He was nicknamed Yisrael

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David the Kitten: because when he studied with young children, he would say to them lovingly, “Come, recite, kitten.” For the second term, his mother took him to Reb Yankel the Chumash teacher.

The cheder was on an alleyway between Shul Gasse and Kovner Gasse, not far from the synagogue courtyard. Older children would go to that cheder: the Terks, Yisraelke and Meirke, the son of Shlomo Kadish the wagon driver, Avremke Lipe's and Motke, the son of Yisrael the bricklayer, and a few others. All of them studied Chumash together out loud. My friend said that he did not know why the rebbe grabbed the stick. The older students were running around the table, and the rebbe was running after them, until they went through the door and fled into the street. Later, when they came into the cheder one by one, the rebbe, Reb Yankel, grabbed each one by the ears, and twisted the ears with a shalshelet tune. They shouted to the heights of the heavens. My friend cannot forget that picture.

The second term, in the winter, had finally passed. On Chol Hamoed Pesach, his father tested him and decided that my friend would go in the cheder of Reb Shmuel Leizer, the Chumash teacher on Breizer Street. Reb Shmuel Leizer had a pleasant disposition, and was hard to anger. He was nearsighted. When he opened the Chumash, he had to put it up to his nose to see what he was looking for. Fortunately, he knew the entire Chumash by heart. My friend was astounded by the erudition of his rebbe. If a student made a mistake, he would hear it immediately and correct it. The rebbe may not have seen well, but he did hear well.

When I remember Reb Shmuel Leizer the teacher, I am always in doubt as to whether he was engraving monuments in his teaching, or vice versa. He could do it both ways: cut the Hebrew letters with sharp knives in wood, and also impart them to the students.

The libel spread about teachers, that they became teachers because they could not do any other job, is not true. He saw himself how Reb Shmuel Leizer and Reb Yankel, both Chumash teachers, did things very well.

The day came – it was either Chanukah, Tu B'Shvat, Purim, or simply a day of good tidings – Reb Yankel the teacher brought a package of Stambul (Istanbul) Tobacco and put it on the table near Shmuel Leizer. Reb Shmuel Leizer wanted to take a look as one would with a package of Stambul Tobacco. Since he was nearsighted, he raised the package of tobacco to his eyes. He smelled the pleasant aroma of the tobacco with his nose, and immediately said, “Reb Yankel, you know, one must make the blessing ‘He who revives souls’.” They inspected the package of tobacco from all sides, and both agreed where it should be cut. The nearsighted Shmuel Leizer cut the package of tobacco with a sharp knife. After the slaughter, they came upon a plan to make a fair division. They gathered two smooth lids and found a Hoshana branch [willow beaten on Hoshana Rabba]. They bound it together with a thread. The branch hung down, and they tied it together from every side with three strands of invalidated tzitzis [ritual fringes that were no longer valid for use] so that it would all be bound together. They put the two bundles of half–package tobacco down on the contraption. Then they moved the golden strands of tobacco with trembling hands from one side to the other, until they came to agreement that they had split it fairly. Finally, they cast lots as to who will get the “stamp” and who will

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get the “seal”. My friend was studying Chumash. In the interim, he learnt how to build a scale. He was astonished at the abilities of the rebbes.

When the first two Talmud Torah rooms were ready, the teachers Reb Yankel, Reb Shmuel Leizer, and the aleph–beit teacher Reb Yisrael David, moved to the new Talmud Torah building with all their students.


In the New Building

The day came when Shmerl Moshe Itzik's or Shmerl Stern arrived in the cheder with a well–dressed guest. They went through the rooms and walked through the yard, looking around. They talked to the rebbe, Reb Shmuel Leizer, and left. The same guest came the following day. He was wearing an overcoat. He hung up his hat, removed his overcoat, and put on a fine, silk yarmulke. A table with a stool was brought to the middle of the room. The table was covered with a green sheet of paper. A pen, ink, a blotter, and a large and small bell were brought to the table. He rang the small bell. All the children became silent. He stood up at the table, acted as the teacher, and told us how things would work.

The teacher divided up all the students of the Talmud Torah into three classes. All the beginners went to the first class with Yisrael David as the teacher. All the students who knew Hebrew well but were beginners in Chumash went to the second class. That class had the largest number of students. I was among them. They got the new teachers. The older students and those above Bar Mitzvah went to the third class, with Reb Shmuel Leizer as the teacher. That class had the smallest number of students.

The teacher placed all the students from the second class along the wall with a Chumash for each pair, and said, “We will divide our class into the first class and the second class. When the first class is learning, the second class will write. I will recite twice from Bereshit, until Vayehi Erev Vayehi Boker[3], and translated it into Yiddish. I want you to listen well. Each oen of you will recite over what I have translated. Those that can recite it will be in the first class. Those that cannot recite it well will be in the second class.”

The teacher recited the first verse, and translated it, “In the beginning, G–d created the heavens and the earth.” Each child had to go to the middle of the room and repeat the translation out loud. Those who recited well went to one side of the room. Those that did not succeed went to the other side. All of those who had never studied Chumash translated well. Almost all of those who had learned and translated according to the old style did not succeed.[4]

Within a few days, a wagon laden with skameiks[5] arrived at the cheder.

Whomever did not see the beauty of the first days when the teacher entered the class and greeted us with “good morning”, with the students responding “good morning”, and the teacher going through the entire class and saying “sit in your seats” – has never seen beauty before. The change from the cheder atmosphere to the classroom atmosphere was the greatest encouragement for the students, and the nicest thing they had ever seen.

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The teacher Shimon the son of Gershon Landres from Bobryiusk was a fine personality. He had a fine, well–groomed beard, which gave him a distinguished appearance. He walked smoothly, talked clearly, and did not smoke cigarettes or a pipe.

The punishments for infractions were not offensive, and did not hurt the feelings of the children. The punishment for hurting one's fellow was that the guilty student received three or six raps over the hand with the ruler for the infraction. According to the teacher's judgment, the punishment for not paying attention was standing in the corner with the face to the wall for a half an hour or more, losing the rights to participate in the great Purim play, sitting in the classroom and writing 20 lines of translation or 100 times the final Fey or Tzadi, or remaining in the classroom after everyone went home. The students loved the teacher – this was the bottom line.

I recall my sins today. The teacher gave me a “2”. Since this was the first “2”, I begged the teacher to not record the sin. This did not help.

I received the “2” because I dared raise my hand to hit a friend. This branded me for life. “A person who raises a hand is considered wicked,” is what the teacher responded to my pleas. I recall this sharp and clear.

Our teacher obtained the best text book, the “Beit Hasefer” [School], which was in four parts. The first part contained the first three Torah portions: Bereishit, Noach, and Lech Lecha. The second part contained all five Chumashim of the Torah. The third part contained the Tanach [Bible] : Joshua, Judges, I and I Samuel, I and II Kings. The fourth part contained the earlier and latter prophets. Every Hebrew word was translated into Yiddish, with the source or the root, the grammatical person and tenses. Every page had a written letter of the aleph–beit for a daily lesson, and a few lines of Chumash. Thus, the book made it easy to learn and remember the language. Since the language is the key to knowing the Jewish Torah, the teacher dedicated the greatest part of the class time to studying the language – the Holy Tongue. He requested that we speak amongst ourselves in Hebrew: “You will know how to write Yiddish when you know the Holy Tongue.”


The Bells Ring, and Rumors

The seekers of wrongdoing of Jonava began to spread rumors that the teacher does not pray, and that they believe he eats non–kosher food. How can it be that bells ring in a Talmud Torah? And they were certain that the Talmud Torah children do not wear tzitzis.

A day came. The teacher was learning with the class, and the students of the other class were writing. Yankel the vinegar maker and Slalom Keidianer, the spies, entered, went to the children and began to search. The teacher saw this and said, “Are you checking for their tzitzis? I will show you their tzitzis!” He invited a child with a torn cloak. “You are wearing a warm fur? – With that cloak, he will freeze; He will get sick and die, and you are looking for tzitzis!” He brought forth another child and took off the cloak – without a hem over his body! And you are searching for tzitzis? – If you bring him a pair of boots, and for him a warm cloak with a hem – I myself will put the tzitzis on them.

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Take the tzitzis and go. Do not dare to come without what they need!” They heard about the spies in Jonava – and the city of Jonava was joyous and glad…

The teacher immediately put up a notice on the door of the entrance. Aside from the trustees, nobody is permitted to enter without permission from the teacher. It was signed Shimon the son of Gershon Landres of Bobruisk.

The conclusion of the episode of the spies was a good one. Our young Jonaver Jewish women gathered together and founded a society for providing clothes to those in need [Chevra Malbish Arumim].

Within a few weeks, four women brought two large roles of cloth for pants and two roles of black cloth for outfits. Every student received a piece of grey cloth for pants and a piece of black cloth for an outfit. Each one could give it over to be sewn. The Malbish Arumim Society would pay for those who cannot pay. Those who needed boots would order boots, and the Malbish Arumim Society would pay a few weeks later. When everyone's clothes were ready, the Talmud Torah students were all dressed up in new, warm clothes, new boots, and black caps. The teacher arranged the students in rows of four, and they marched through Breizer Street like true soldiers – those on duty in front and the teacher on the side. This was the finest parade that I remember from my young days, aside from the march of the bride and groom to the chupa [marriage canopy] near the kloiz.

A rumor spread that there were students in the Jonava Talmud Torah who were hungry. They checked this out and decided that all orphans and children of those in need who do not have enough to eat – would have breakfast every morning except for Saturday. Yeshaya brought from Meite the Baker two bagels or cakes for 15 children. They ate breakfast before the teacher arrived. Many children were jealous of the orphans, who ate such fresh rolls and cakes, while they ate a morsel of dry bread.


Purim and Examinations

The holiday of Purim arrived. The leaders were Itzik the cutter (Dembo), Leib Granevich, and the lad Yankel Weitzstein. They chose children who could sing, and they practiced Shoshanat Yaakov[6] and other songs of Zion.

The Purim evening was conducted in the Beis Midrash. The majority of Jonava Jews were present, and the Beis Midrash was packed.

After the successful Purim evening, the teacher decided to conduct and open examination for the Jews of Jonava who supported the Talmud Torah.

The first to come was Shmuel Leib Burik. He went through the rooms, looked through the books, and put on his glasses and asked us to write Aavha. The students were confused, for they had never heard of such a word. Shmuel Leib said: “Ahava raa Avatanu” and the teacher said, “Ahava raba ahavtanu[7]. Shmuel Leib was very insulted and we heard very strong words. He grabbed his cane and wanted to escape, but the teacher held him back. Shmerl Moshe Itzik's and another few came. Few parents came.

No more open examinations were called. Rumors spread through Jonava that the Talmud Torah children were able to learn better than even the Kaplitzer Yosi–Ber Brandweiss' students. The two other classrooms were ready.

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Another wagon of new skameiks arrived. The teacher brought in another young teacher from Bobruisk. He was a fine, tall lad with a head of curly hair. His name was Jachnovich. The teacher Shimon the son of Gershon gathered his second class into the new room, and Jachnovich took over the teacher's classroom with new students who had grown up well, forming a true third class. Shmuel Leizer's very few students formed the fourth class.

The first class with their teacher began to speak Hebrew among themselves. The true wealthy householders started to send their children to the Talmud Torah. They even agreed to make the same clothes for their children. Even Binemke Pogirsky sewed the same clothes with a cap, and sat on the same skameik as I did.

The fathers of the children shouted that the wealthy people wanted to take over the Talmud Torah. They want to pay, and the poor do not, so the teacher will dedicate himself to teaching the wealthy children. They listened to their outcry, and it was decided that the students who pay should come after the Talmud Torah students go home, and the teacher would teach them until 6:00. Then the teachers let out a great, bitter outcry that teachers who were not true melamdim were coming to our city, and were taking away the morsel of bread from the mouths of the true melamdim. This did not work well, and they gave in. Many fathers wanted to also include the poor families, for they too were not wealthy. This was perhaps the first time in our hometown when wealth was a deficit, and those who were wealthy were jealous of the poor.

Once, at services in the Beis Midrash on the Sabbath, the teacher with the householders approached the table of the common folk and looked for Talmud Torah students from the common folk. They found a student from the first class who had learnt for a year, and had studied the first section of “Beit HaSefer.” He knew Hebrew well, and knew many words of the Holy Tongue. They examined him, and he recited a half page of Hebrew, as easily as water flows down a mountain. My friend had studied the second section of “Beit HaSefer,” and was studying the Torah portion of Vayigash. He translated a half a page. The teacher moved on to Bamidbar, and my friend was also able to understand Bamidbar, for they studied the Holy Tongue, and they would understand any section. The teacher Shimon the son of Gershon left with the examiners and was proud of his students, who knew what they were studying.


New Teachers and A New Outcry

When we came to the Talmud Torah classroom after Sukkot, we found that the teacher Jachnovich had brought two new teachers. One, named Choshev, was from near Bobruisk. He took over Jachnovich's class, and Jachnovich took over Shimon the son of Gershon Landres' class. I have forgotten the name of the second teacher. He took the place of Reb Shmuel Leizer to teach the beginners. A Jewish girl from Jonava, who graduated from the Peterburg Russian University, was given an hour to teach the Russian language to the third class. Later, they decided to send the students to the Russian school to learn Russian for a half day.

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When we 12 children arrived at that school, they told us to stay home until we would receive a permit from the governor. It took a few weeks for the permit for us to study Russian arrived. When we came, they sat us in the front, near the wall. When the teacher started the Russian lesson with the new lads, he said that whomever had an old book should give it to the Yevreis [Jews], and he would receive a new one. He knew how to do this well, calming us and ensuring that nobody would hurt us.

We were about ten years old at that time. The complaint came anew regarding the Talmud Torah: they are taking Jewish children who were sent there to study Torah, and sending to a Russian school where they would become apostates. The bitter words against the Talmud Torah were because they were teaching a Jewish boy to write a Russian address – and one must not do this. However, the fathers of the students knew better, stating that the Talmud Torah teachers and leaders were more pious, honorable and useful than even Shalom Keidianer, whose daughter knows Russian much better than Yiddish, and can write and teach the Russian language.

Our classrooms were always tidy, orderly, and clean. They brought pictures of the great people of our generation. Every room was decorated with those pictures. Dr. Herzl's picture, with the long, black beard, hung among them. All the leaders of the Talmud Torah, including Shmerl Stern and Komberg, who would always come to Talmud Torah meetings, arrived. All the classes took place, and the teacher Jachnovich delivered a eulogy for Dr. Herzl. He addressed all the students of all classes, saying that the children should recite Yizkor for the leader of the generation throughout their lives, and asking every student to write a story about Dr. Herzl. Every story will be read in front of the class. The best story will win a prize. A cantor recited the memorial, and everyone sung Hatikvah.


Our Talmud Torah Celebrations

We sang songs of Zion once a week. All the classes gathered together. In Jonava, there was somebody without a son–in–law on support. The son–in–law had married a girl from Jonava, and was involved in the cantorial arts. He would come often to teach singing.

Lag B'Omer was a true festival. We would go to the forest, every class with their teacher. We would march two in a row, like soldiers. We would march through Keidianer Street, passing by the cemetery. We reached the sandy hill, which we would ascend. We would play various games. The winner would receive toys, which were brought by Shmerl Stern: rubber balls and other such things. The teacher brought candies. The children brought delicacies to eat during the day. No celebration in the Talmud Torah would take place without Shmerl, Moshe Itzik's.

Then the day came… It seemed that the dear Talmud Torah students were good children. However, the inclination of man is evil from his youth[8]. The Holy Sabbath is a day of rest. One worships, eats, plays, hurries to the meadows, and to the Dizzy Mountain.

In the middle of the joyous, lively playing, we suddenly realized: It was two o'clock. We had to go to cheder – in the summer to recite the chapter of Pirkei Avot, and in the winter Barchi Nafshi with all the Shir Hamaalot Psalms. The children were enthusiastic as a flame of fire for the chapters and for the Barchi Nafshi. They wanted to

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uproot them, and rip them out of all the prayer books, so that could be free… The older children conferred together, raised their hands and swore… We are not going to cheder on the Sabbath. Not everyone was able to keep the secret, for the fathers found out. They had to go, but a few did not go, I among them. On Sunday morning, the teachers Jachnovich and Choshev were the judges. They said that we were correct, we should not study on the Sabbath. We must go an entire day Friday, and then be free. We did not want to give up the half day on Friday. We would prefer to go on. We had to go on the Sabbath to recite the despised chapter and the cold Barchi Nafshi.

We students felt that the teachers hated going to cheder even more than the children. However, it was an inviolable rule from our ancestors. They did not shame us strikers, but it was bitter enough that we had to go on the Sabbath, for on the Sabbath, the householders would come to look over the Talmud Torah and examine the students. And Shmerl Moshe Itzik's, what did he do on the Sabbath?


Shmerl Moshe Itzik's or Shmerl Stern

He was a communal activist who gave so much of his time for the upkeep of the Jonava Talmud Torah. He would fill in if a teacher was sick. He would come a few times a week to check if everything is in order. During the many years that I was a student at the Talmud Torah, there was nobody who did as much as he did for the welfare of the students and the teachers. It is a rare individual who would give over so much for the welfare of the public.



I mention Shmerl with awe and honor. When I mention the teachers who taught us and lit up our world – Shimon the son of Gershon Landres of Bobruisk, Jachnovich the second teacher, and Choshev the third –– Shmerl Stern is always included.

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On a hot summer day, when the sun shone from the heights of the Jonaver sky, the first shout of “Fire! Yisrael the Tzigelnik's house is burning” was heard. The Talmud Torah students ran home, and the men of Jonava ran to the fire with buckets of water. The hot wind blew the fire and within three hours from the first fire alarm, the entire town was on fire. The hot coals fell here and there. The black chimneys looked like gravestones over the Jewish houses of Jonava that were still standing. The Jonava Talmud Torah was not burnt, but the lights in the Talmud Torah were extinguished, and the institution was destroyed. It was used as a shelter for many families.

When I came to the Talmud Torah the next morning and saw our teacher, I saw the battle that took place for a bit of floor space in our classrooms. People tried to grab a larger floor space in the corners. The skameiks marked the borders. Children sat on the sacks – the wealth saved from the fire. They were all partners in driving me out: they were afraid of a new enemy. They did not need any guests there, so I had to go to the Beis Midrash. As I recall, these neighbors were in the Talmud Torah for a few years. One thing I do not know: How did the Jonava Talmud Torah become a jail, and who were the jailkeepers who took over two rooms, and dissociated themselves from the unwanted neighbors. The windows of our Jachnovich's classroom were sealed with iron grates for the prisoners, and the other room was for soldiers from the convoy. The unfortunate neighbors lived in the other two rooms, that they had taken over on the day after the fire.

One day, the Talmud Torah rooms, which became a jail after the Jonava fire, had their iron grates removed from the windows, and turned into a house of worship. A “Tiferet Bachurim” group was founded in Jonava under the influence of Yankel the vinegar maker and Shalom Keidianer.

There was a long table with two long benches. The young lads sat and Yankel the vinegar maker studied the Abridged Code of Jewish Law with them. There was a Holy Ark with three decorated Torah scrolls on the eastern wall. There was a podium for the prayer leader and a lectern for Reb Shalom Keidianer, the leader of the Tiferet Bachurim. There was a table in the middle of the room for the reading of the holy Torah, and for the distribution of aliyas and honors. It was a veritable holy place. It seems that all the holy places survived the fire as if by a miracle: the old Beis Midrash, the large, beautiful Beis Midrash, and the Frachtfule Shul on Shul Hoif all remained. The Korobelniksher Kloiz on Breizer Street remained whole, and the Hassidic Shtibel also did not burn. Only the old kloiz burnt down, but a new one was built.

Aside from this, the other classrooms were occupied by the unwanted neighbors as if it were a poorhouse.

Around 1909, rumors spread that the Jonava Talmud Torah was being revised with the teacher Shaul Kiediansky.

I often saw him passing by on the way to the Talmud Torah. Due to his outward appearance and his proud gait, he looked like our teachers

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Choshev and Jachnovich from before the fire. Within a brief time, I heard that another teacher was coming to the classroom. That teacher was already a Jonaver by birth, from a prominent Jonava family, Yosi–Meir Itzikovich. His father Yankel Asher's, a tall Jew, used to go around every Thursday before the Sabbath with his big basket to collect challah for Kiddush for those who could not buy or bake it. On Friday, he would divide it up among those in need, and who lacked bread to eat during the week. His son became a teacher in our Jonava Talmud Torah. He was a son–in–law of Moshe Keidianer, who owned a carpentry shop near the Viliya. Pogirsky's neighbor, my friend's brother, a student of the revived Talmud Torah, already wrote and spoke the Holy Tongue, just like the good, old times. A third teacher came to the Talmud Torah. The sound of the Talmud Torah students began to be heard on Breizer Street. When my friend went to America, the correspondence with his brother was in the Holy Tongue. His Bar Mitzvah letter from his brother was full of expressions from the Hebrew of the Jonava Talmud Torah.

The Hebrew letters floated back and forth over the Atlantic until the second conflagration of the First World War, and the expulsion of the Jews of Lithuania.

Translator's Footnotes

  1. A shalshelet is a cantillation trop with an elongated melody. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ShalsheletReturn
  2. The story changes from first person to third person here, seemingly to generalize.Return
  3. The first chapter of Genesis.Return
  4. I did not transpose the Yiddish translation here word for word, but it is clear that the new style looked at the entire verse as one unit, whereas the old style translated phrase by phrase, so that the translation did not match proper sentence structure (i.e. In the beginning, Created, G–d, the Heavens…”Return
  5. Skameik means bench in Russian. This is evidently a type of bench.Return
  6. Lily of Jacob, a Purim hymn.Return
  7. The latter phrase is part of the morning prayers. The former phrase is a corrupted pronunciation of it.Return
  8. Genesis 6:5.Return

On Separate Paths

by Y. Y. Pogir

We were three friends, born on the same Breizer Street.

Each one of us prepared to earn a living through work. Alke Ozvolk became a gaiter stitcher. Yisraelka Pogir, the son of Yosa the tailor, finally became a smith. Meirka Fridel's, an orphan, could not prepare himself for a trade. He went onto the water to float the barges.

In 1913, on a snowy Sunday morning, we three friends, 18–year–old lads, set out for America. We stole across the border, traveled by ship, and arrived at Ellis Island, the island of tears. There, we separated.

We often wrote letters to each other. The debates about our ideals branched out. I remained a supporter of Poalei Zion, and am active in Poale Zion work with my wife to this day.

The following is from Meirka's letter from New York in 1915, to me in Pittsburgh:

“… You write to me that you are now a Poalei Zionist. I congratulate you for your new ideal. I am somewhat against that ideal.

… What have the Zionists done to this point? And if they will indeed accomplish, can we take light from them, for they do not know how to fight. They will be too small in number. However, Socialism is here for all people, and Socialism must come.

Zionism today is merely an idea, and not for everybody. Only for a small number. It presents a fine fantasy with empty hope. However, if you honestly believe in it, I wish you success.

As it is, I am a big against it. But this is not so much because that the Poalei Zion supporters in New York are now like Socialists…”

From your dear brother,

Meir Petershein

[Page 362]

My Native Village of Siesikai

by Shmuel Balnik


As in the fog of a spring dawn, my small hometown, where I spent my childhood, is revealed and crystallized before my eyes. It stands like a discarded pearl on some intersection, between forests, fields, fruit orchards, and deep lakes. Memories are awakened. For me today, this is only a cemetery, a desolate desert, from which I escaped with closed eyes.

The village of Siesikai is located 35 kilometers northeast of Jonava, near Tarakai–Bukonys–Gustonys, which goes to the town of Seta in the winter[1].

Siesikai is surrounded on the east side, which leads to Vilkomir (22 kilometers), by two large lakes. From the other side, leading to the town of Pogir (12 kilometers), it is surrounded by forests and small farms. In the south, leading to the village of Taujenai, it is surrounded by large forests of oak, firs, and alders. These were the Gruzer and Kikuner forests, where I worked for many years as a driver for Jewish forestry merchants.

On the north side, there were many fruit orchards, such as the Heifer and Pasader orchards. I would travel to Jonava through two main routes: on was via Tarakai and Pageležiai, and then via the highway. The second was via Tarakai–Kaplice (the native town of the Bursteins and Wolfowitzes), and Mateikiškiai. The village was built in the year 1534. It burnt down and was rebuilt several times. One building always remained intact – the church. It was known for its massive stones, and its artistic style both inside and outside.

According to legend, there were two Siesikai brothers during the time of Vitas the Great, who came with their horses and wagons and brought a large stone. They built a hut on the location of the church and said that they wish to remain there until a house of worship for Jesus is built there, and the stone would be the base of the foundation. The founding of the town followed. It was especially known during the years of Lithuanian independence. The courtyard of the Lithuanian president Antanas Smetona[2] was not far from the town (10 kilometers away). This was the Uzgirish courtyard, in which he was born in the village of Terpeikiai.

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He would stop in Siesikai during the summer, when he traveled to the courtyard. Every time, he would visit the small synagogue to have a chat with the local elderly Jews. The 400th anniversary of the church was celebrated in in 1935. During his speech, the president mentioned the local Jewish residents of the town who had settled in the region and lived in peace and contentment with the Lithuanians.


Connections with Jonava

The reader should not wonder why this book, which is dedicated to the holy memory of the heroic Jewry of Jonava, describes the lives and tragic destruction of the Jewish community of the village of Siesikai. The memory of my village with its scant thirty Jewish families was connected with the life of the nearby larger Jewish community of Jonava. It is sufficient to mention that the rabbi of Jonava, Rabbi Chaim–Yitzchak Silman of blessed memory, would come to our synagogue in Siesikai to give sermons and teach Torah. He met his wife there, the daughter of the honorable Reb Ben–Zion Bin, the spiritual leader of the town. In the later years, when he occupied the honorable rabbinical seat of Jonava and became well–known, he would come twice a year, on Shabbat HaGadol and Shabbat Shuva, to worship with us and deliver sermons. His sermons were full of Torah, moral lessons, and life wisdom. These would serve for the Jews of our town as way setters for the entire year. He would boast about his holy community of Jonava, where Torah and work were bound together.

Siesiker Jews did not own houses, distilleries, or factories. The most important source of their livelihood was the wheat business: Abba Sulski, chaim Perlstein, Yonah Katz, and others. In the summer, they did business with fruit. They would lease the fruit orchards from the surrounding landowners. In the autumn, they would bring the apples to the Jonava train station with a wagon. The Jonava fruit traders would then purchase the fruit and export it in wagons to Germany. The Siesikers would purchase cattle for the Jonava butchers Izik Nachimovich, Shlomo Judelovich – or, as the Siesikers called them in short form: Izka the Butcher, Shlomo the Maskver. When the local farmer had cattle to sell, he would turn to the local merchants to tell the Jonaver businessmen to come. It was considered humiliating to sell in Vilkomir, even if the price was higher. The local Jews would also purchase furs for the Jonaver merchants.

There were also several shopkeepers who maintained small shops. The would obtain the merchandise from the Jonaver wholesalers Liber Farber, Meir Goldschmid, and others. The forest machines used on an annual basis, which would be placed in the autumn in the forest department in Kovno, were sold in the Siesiker region and exploited via the Kemach factory in Jonava (Inhaber, Burtein, Wolfovich).

As has been stated earlier, I worked in all the forests as an employee (called a Shafer) for the aforementioned firm for many years. I was also given the responsibility by the firm to concern myself with providing the small synagogue with firewood, which was unused the entire year. All together, the connections that bound us to the Jonava community were very deep. When a Jew of Siesikai would travel with horse and wagon to Kovno, Jonava would be the first stop. When farmers of Siesikai would fight with each other,

[Page 364]

the victor would claim that he “drowned” like a Jewish wagon driver or butcher from Jonava. On the other hand, when a gentile fought with a Jew in the village, he would shout, “This is not Jonava for you!”

We mention such a curiosity: Itzik Jozefs of blessed memory, who was a quiet, poor, intelligent person, but also an ignoramus[3]. He came to the landowner Daugiala to request that he lease him the orchard with the fruit of the season. The landowner said to him, “Unfortunately, I cannot lease it to you, for you Jews murdered our god.” Itzik did not think long, and answered, “My master the landowner, it was not the Jews of Siesikai, but rather the Jews of Jonava, who did this.” He was so certain of the power of the Jonavers that he had no fear of the great landowner, who owned more than half of the houses in the town in which the Jews lived.

There were close connections between the Siesikers and Jonavers, for example between the Jonaver Wenders and Perevozhniks, the Farber family with the Jonava Farbers and Dragatzkis, the Meltz family with the Jonaver Lukmans, etc.


Living in Harmony

In general, the Jews of Siesikai lived in harmony, like one large family. There was barely any jealousy or hatred, for everyone was on the same social level.

There were no parties and organizations in the town. However, they were all warm, nationalistically inclined Jews and Zionists, who would place money in the blue box (the Jewish National Fund). They youth strove for culture, and they decided to found a library.

Its first founders were Sara Bin (Balnik) together with Morris Orlin (today in Africa). It was not so simple to do this. However, thanks to all the forestry merchants and their drivers would lodge in the home of Yaakov Bin of blessed memory. Sara


A wedding in Siesikai (1933). The groom was Moshe, and the bride was Fruma



The founders of the library with the societal activist Moshe Orlin before his departure for South Africa.
In the photo: The Bin sisters from Siesikai, Wender, and Lukman from Jonava


Bentze the Siesiker
On the right is his daughter Rebbetzin Silman


Jews of Siesikai meeting the Episcopal from Panevežys, 1935
Greeting him – Meir Felisher. Standing nearby, Bentze Levin

[Page 365]

indeed used the opportunity and approached the guests. Egoz from Vilna, Swirsky from Kovno, Yonah Katz of blessed memory, and Tanchum Burstein of blessed memory assisted with money. The youth then had a fine library and a place to meet for lectures and entertainment. In the later years, Rachel Orlin of blessed memory, the mother of the aforementioned Morris Orlin, gave over her entire dwelling to the older youths for that purpose. We all called her Bubbe Rachel, and honored her greatly. We saw with our eyes how she would sit in the corner of her dwelling, with photos of her four sons and daughter who immigrated to Africa on the table. Next to every photo was a charity box for the Jewish National Fund.

One of the modern cultural activists was the Zionist Meir Fleisher. He came from the town of Vilkaviškis, and founded a sawmill here – the first large enterprise. A year after the arrival of the Soviet Army, he was deported to Siberia as a Zionist and bourgeoisie. Today, he lives in Kovno, and strives to come to Israel.

Since there was no material basis for the older youth, with the passage of time the youth emigrated, primarily to Africa. About twenty people settled in the city of Johannesburg. They especially came from the large families blessed with many children, such as the Bin, Orlin, and Balnik families. I state with happiness that when I was in Johannesburg in 1969, I found a Siesiker society with over 200 members, most of whom had never been in the town. The warm, good, Jewish character traits and national faithfulness of their parents in the Siesikai of old was given over to them as a heritage. Their children donate and do a great deal for Israel, especially from the Magen David Adom. The former Bin sisters, today Sara Balnik, Helen Salken, Munia Balnik, Alta Orlin, Teiba Orlin, and others are active in that sense. All Siesikers take part in funding the various campaigns for Israel.

Unfortunately, the older generation is passing away, and I met them only on the gravestones of the cemetery there. These included my two brothers of blessed memory.

The picture from 26 years ago swims before my eyes, how I returned from the front at the end of the war and took a look at the destroyed town of Siesikai. I alone had escaped from there to Soviet Russia at the beginning of the war, and not one Jew survived. I read a frightful document, in which the police chief from Siesikai, Zaremba may his name be blotted out, shared with the police force of Vilkomir the fact that Siesikai was Judenrein. That is when I made my decision that my foot should not be found on Lithuanian soil, which was soaked with Jewish blood spilled by the Lithuanian executioners. I fought for ten years, bringing papers to the Interior Ministry every year, to be permitted to leave. In 1966, I finally merited to come to the homeland here in Israel with my wife and two daughters.


The Destruction of Siesikai Jewry

In the last 5–6 years before the outbreak of the Second World War, when Hitlerism spread and overtook one country after another, the Jews of Siesikai lived very mundane lives, occupied with their day to day livelihood and with the words from the letters from the children who had spread out through the world. With all the things happening to

[Page 366]

to the Jews, they began to recite Psalms more intensely. This was the only weapon in their hands. This was the situation when Hitler grabbed Memel and Poland. The older Jews would say that they would survive this new Haman.

Nothing was requested when the Soviets entered Lithuania. Nobody was wealthy, and nobody mixed into politics. It was only darker to live, for the Jews had cast off the small stores. Shortly before the outbreak of the war, 21 families with 70 individuals lived in Siesikai. As we determined after the war, based on testimonies and documents, on the second or third day of the war, on June 23–24 1941, many Jews of the town who had gotten married in the big cities returned to the town. Many Jonavers came with their families, including Liber and Yudel Farber, Yaakov Bin, Meir Wender, and others. So many people came, just as happened during the First World War, when people felt it would be easier and calmer to spend the wartime period in a small town. However, a few days later, some of them, including Meir Wender and Bin, returned to Jonava. The farmers immediately displayed their murderous faces, and Jews were unable to purchase anything. Only a few helped, and it is appropriate to mention to mention such Lithuanians as Imbras and Andrei Talalas. However, the majority, including those with whom we had grown up, stole, murdered, and mocked. The Jews sat in their houses in shock, torn from the world.

On the 9th or 10th day of the war, a loaded tank arrived from Kovno, headed by 10 bandits, and brought a command from Maiar Impulavicus, who lives today in America, about clearing Siesikai from Soviet agents and other anti–German elements. They brought with them seven bound Russian youths from Russian village of Manteik. The Lithuanian bandits, who came together with the town bandits such as Klatinas, Sokolovski, Karaliunas, and others, broke into the Jewish houses and snatched 27 Jews, among them my two brothers, and the children of Korobelnik, Grazutis, and Meltz. The strong Jews such as Yankel and Avraham–Ber, as well as Moshe Levin and his family (the son of the former shochet), Liber and Yudel Farber from Jonava, were driven to a grove two kilometers from the town, with spades, and order to dig pits. They were brutally beaten and murdered. Everyone in town heard the shots. The cry from the mothers and families made the bandits happy. After their work, they drank and celebrated wildly the entire night.

On Friday afternoon, September 1, 1941, all the Jews were dragged out of the houses, and brought to the small, wooden synagogue. They were not allowed to take anything along. They were already shadows of people. Those who witnessed it said that the older people, especially the women, led the children by the hands, for they could not go themselves. They were held up in the synagogue the entire night without water. Nobody was allowed to leave. On Saturday morning, about 20 wagons set out with four people in each wagon, bound by the hands. They were transported to Vilkomir, and murdered in the Pivaner Forest on September 5, 1941 by the Lithuanian executioners, may their names and memories be blotted out.

More than 12,000 Jews were murdered in the Pivaner Forest near Vilkomir. A memorial stands there today, and Jews come once a year to visit the grave of their ancestors. In accordance with my request and the request of the parents of the 7 murdered Russians, the 27 people shot near our town were exhumed in 1964, two years before my departure from Lithuania.

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When they were exhumed, many looked as they did when they were alive, for the ground was wet and sandy.

The bodies of the 27 Jews and 7 Russians were brought to the military cemetery in Vilkomir and buried with a ceremony. The inscription says, “Here lies Soviet citizens murdered by the Nazis.”

During the night when they placed all the Jews in to the synagogue, as I have written earlier, the young Jewish lad Elke Meltz succeeded in escaping and hiding in the forest of the area until the beginning of 1944. As the liberation approached, the local farmers found him in the forest and cruelly murdered him.

Meir Fleisher's wife Devora and her brother Berl hid with farmer acquaintances for several months. At the end, the farmers turned them in to the police. They were transported to the Pivaner Forest near Vilkomir and shot together with two other Jews of Vilkomir. Chaim Baran and Dr. Yeshayahu Rabinovitch also hid with farmer near Siesikai.

As we later learned, only Lithuanians participated in all the aktions against the Jews in Siesikai, the area, and Vilkomir. After the war, many of the murderers of Siesiker and Jonaver Jews were tried by the Soviet courts. Among them were Klatinas, Karalaunas, Maldaikis, Zamachkas, and many others. I took part in and provided materials for many of the trials. Many of those sentenced served their time and now live free in their place. Many succeeded in escaping with the Germans, included the murderers Gipas, Talalas, and others, and today are living free in America.

From all Siesiker Jews, Meir Fleisher (today in Kovno, Lithuania), and the writer of these lines survive – that is 2 out of 70 people. In short, this is the story of the tragic death of the Jews of my hometown of Siesikai, including my beloved mother Chaya, brothers Yitzchak, Rafael, Yechezkel, and Aryeh, and sisters Dvora and Sara.

These lines were written in their memory.

[Page 368]

Three Events from the Year 1902

… Regarding a political gathering of 100 people in a forest near Jonava, with a n unrolled red banner upon which revolutionary words are described in “Fasli Izvestiz” (October 22, 1902):

“The Bund – the speaker said – worries as a father does for his children, even in such a hole as Jonava. Given over to the Bund (the speaker turned to the incoming representative from the center), he must not forget us Jonavers when he will call the Jewish workers to revolution: Wherever he calls us to, we will go, even unto death.”

The same issue (August 22, 1902) describes a characteristic case of the delaying of the reading [of the Torah] by the workers in the same Jonava, and regarding a matter to which the workers had no direct connection, only it was handled with simple justice and propriety:

A police chief battered the Jew Yankel Roker. The family of the beaten man demanded from the “Fani” (Russians) of the city that they bring a doctor to Kovno to conduct a trial against the murderous police chief. The “Fani” refused for fear of starting up with the police chief. The workers and the family of Yankel Roker came to the synagogue. They did not allow the Torah reading to proceed, as they demanded a trial against the police chief. This led to a large fight in the synagogue itself, and also on the street. The workers came to a Kovno hospital and also were in the street. The workers brought a doctor from Kovno, took the beaten man to a Kovno hospital, and conducted a trial against the police chief.

…The householders in Kiediani hired hooligans to beat and terrorize the “statshkenikes.” Of course, the police were on the side of the householders. The Kiedianers called the Jonavers for help: A large group of healthy workers arrived from Jonava. It was dark in town. The doors and gates were closed out of fear. In the evening, with the Oriondik and the Satniks were out to the street together with the hooligans, they were beaten so badly that they fled in a bloody state. We had taught the hooligans well.

(From the book “Lita” published in 1951 in America, edited by Dr. Mendel Sodarski.

Translator's Footnotes

  1. The first two towns are close to Siesikai. The others are not. I suspect that this is referring to a railway line.Return
  2. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antanas_SmetonaReturn
  3. Am Haaretz implies an ignoramus in religious knowledge. Thus, one can be intelligent in worldly affairs, but also an ignoramus.Return


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