« Previous Page Table of Contents Next Page »

[Page 51]

A Wedding in Town

kob051.jpg

by Dvora Bachman (Gordon), Haifa

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Dedicated to the memory of the sheathes that were cut down, and to the memory of those who did not merit to reach the wedding canopy.

Since more than 30 years have passed from the time I made aliya, and was cut off from the events of life in the town; the realities with which we lived years ago are not as clear as they once were, for the passage of time and years has taken its toll and erased from my memory a substantial portion of the events that were our lot in the past. Nevertheless, several memories remain etched in our hearts that are still fresh today, as if the passage of time had no influence on them. One of them is a Jewish wedding in the town. Indeed, this Jewish wedding in the town expresses something fundamental and unique, that typifies that era and the environment in which the Jews lived.

 

Concern for a Daughter who is Getting Older

The concern to marry off an older daughter held an honorable place in every family. There was no shortage of factors that prematurely added to this worry. Most of the families of Kobylnik had several children, and the marriage of the oldest daughter did not free the family from this concern, for after the oldest daughter comes the second or third daughter, who were also waiting for their wedding day…

Furthermore, the daughter in a family was the weakest link in the economic chain. Most of the girls did not learn a trade, and were not economically independent. They remained dependent on their families even after their marriage. In general, they became successful household managers, dedicating most of their time to the care of their family. This fact increased the concern of the parents, for they knew that their meager means would not be sufficient to provide full support to all their children for their future lives. In general, the ideal age of marriage for a male

[Page 52]

was considered to be 30, and a bit lower for a female. However, there were many cases where that age passed due to the poor economic status of the family. There were also exceptions, where the parents were able to provide all the clothing and other necessities for the couple at the right time, and to set up the economic basis of their children for the future. It is unnecessary to explain the uncomfortable situation of a girl in town whose marriage was delayed. Such a situation was discussed by everybody, and became a target for the arrows of the members of the town. People spread rumors to their best of their ability regarding the reasons that the daughter of so–and–so was not yet married. In short, marriage became a public topic upon which everybody trampled, and this exaggerated curiosity only ended when the daughter reached the wedding canopy.

Before the wedding, there was an extensive, very practical exchange between the two sides, with the central aim being the size of the dowry that the parents of the bride would present the groom on the wedding day, as well as their agreement to support the young couple and to provide them with livelihood after the wedding if the groom wished to continue with his Torah studies. When they came into contact, each side of the family praised the bride or the groom to the best of their abilities, describing their special qualities. They would discuss the wonderful traits of the bride, her beauty, her charm, her expertise in running the household and maintaining cleanliness, her capabilities in the kitchen in cooking and baking, and her interpersonal success with her friends. On the other side, they described the groom's handsomeness, his good health, his success and abilities to become a good supporter of a family, and his diligence in business or some other endeavor. They also talked about his dedication to tradition, his expertise in the small letters[1], prayer, and scriptures. The age of the groom also served as a key point of discussion between the families.

 

Pedigree…[2]

Another very important stage was confirming the family tree of the families. Serious and exacting work was done to investigate the past and lineage of each side of the prospective couple. There were also cases where they dug back for many generations to investigate the past and status of each family in great detail. This was easy when both sides of the family came from Kobylnik. In such cases, everything was known, and the investigation was superfluous. It was more difficult, however, when the proposed match was from outside. In such cases, they had to dedicate time to find the connection and contact with the town from where prospective bride or groom came.

[Page 53]

The main point of attention in this investigation of the pedigree of the couple was: who were the maternal and paternal grandparents – were they Hasidim or Misnagdim; where there any family members who fell into a bad crowd or who abandoned Judaism, heaven forbid, bringing shame on the family? Or, on the contrary, were there in the family scholars, Yeshiva students, scholars, intelligent people, who were a source of glory to the entire family? It was also important to know whether there were businessmen, forestry or wheat traders, suppliers, agents, and the like; or merely small–scale merchants who were involved in peddling or trading with villagers; or whether they were tradesmen such as tailors, shoemakers, etc. All of these factors contributed to the positive or negative fate of the marriage. The young couple were not always asked for their opinion on the marriage, even though the choice was at times not to their liking. As in all towns in the district, Kobylnik did not suffer from an excess of love amongst the youth. As their parents, the wedding was the fruit of the labor of the matchmaker, who knew how to forge matches. It is difficult to ascertain how many of these couples were happy, and how many suffered all their lives became of the lack of minimal compatibility between themselves.

 

A New Custom Comes to Town

After the First World War, a significant change came across the way of thinking of the people, including the youth. Fundamental changes also took place in the realm of love and marriage. A new factor appeared over the skies of the town – the youth movements, where boys and girls would meet each other under a common rubric, and many previously held concepts would be weakened. The call to the youth to change their ways of life, to would participate in summer camps, venerate the work ethic and to draw close to nature also contributed important concepts to the realm of marriage. The youth would go out on excursions in the bosom of nature. They would spend time in the forests near the lakes near Kobylnik. They and go out to hachsharah points far from home. They would spend the late–night hours dancing at the chapter headquarters. All of these factors deepened the connection between the sexes. The result was marriages through direct connection, without matchmakers and without middlemen…

 

The Wedding Ceremony

Nevertheless, everything related to the wedding ceremony remained unchanged. This was a joyous, happy day. Aside from the bride, the groom, and the families –– most of the townsfolk, both Jews and gentiles, took an active role. Preparations for this day were noticed very well already several days previously. Already on the Sabbath prior to the wedding, the family with the groom went to the

[Page 54]

synagogue, where the groom was honored with the reading of the Haftarah. As he descended from the bima after the reading, he passed through a shower of nuts and sweets that were thrown down from the windows of the women's gallery. The children in the synagogue gleefully gathered the loot into their pockets. At the same time, the family treated the worshippers with wine, cookies, and other baked goods. At the end of the good wishes in the synagogue, the entourage returned home with the groom, where they found a table set for Kiddush. The gathering once again raised cups of liquor and blessed the groom. The atmosphere was exalted and full of joy.

 

kob054.jpg
In the bosom of nature

 

For several days prior to the wedding, care was taken that the bride and groom not meet, and not even be under the same roof… Both remained in seclusion with their respective families. The families were also careful that the Jewish laws that applied to the wedding day would be observed meticulously. Both would fast on the wedding day. If, heaven forbid, either the bride or the groom had lost a parent, they would go to the cemetery on that day to supplicate at the graves, so that they pure souls would beg for mercy on High for the success of the young couple, and that the Creator would grant them good fortune and a happy life.

[Page 55]

Close to the time of the wedding, the bride already sat in her home on a chair decorated with flowers, wearing her lovely dress and a white veil on hear head. A band conducted by Alexei the gentile played fiddles and trumpets inside. Alexei used to play at the weddings in town. The bride's friends who gathered in her house bedecked her with countless kisses. Pious women groaned and shed tears from great joy… There were cases where the jester stood on the porch and greeted the guests who came to bless the bride. He would announce the arrival of the guests in a festive voice to the best of his ability, and tell jokes to entertain the celebrants. The tension grew until the groom arrived at the bride's home along with his parents and attendants for the bedecking ceremony and covering the face of the bride (bedekins).

The ceremony here was very short. All the participants then walked from the bride's house to the synagogue, where the wedding ceremony would take place in the yard, under the open skies. This was a very joyous procession along the main street of the town, headed by the band, which was playing wedding songs. Behind the band, two elderly women, Sheina and Perl Leah, danced the “mitzvah dance” as everyone accompanied them with joyous hand clapping. The groom walked nearby the dancers, pale and emotional. His parents and attendants marched next to him. The crowd walked behind them with drums and dancing, all of them were singing amidst a very large bustle. The local gentiles (shkotzim) were also not absent, adding to the bustle and noise.

The wedding canopy (chupa} was already set up in the synagogue yard, supported by four poles. Another group, who had already gathered there, sang loudly and repetitively, “He will bless the groom, He will bless the groom,” asking G–d to bless the groom. The entire gathering sang this incessantly, repeating it over and over, for close to half an hour until they saw the bride approaching the canopy with her parents and attendants. Then the gathering changed the words of the song, and added the word “the bride” – that is “He will bless the groom and the bride.” Small candles were lit net to the canopy, and everyone waited for rabbi to intone the betrothal blessing and to read the ketuba [marriage document]. Yeshayahu–Yosef Gordon assisted him, taking care of all other matters, and giving the bride and groom the cup of wine to drink under the canopy. With the resonance of the breaking of the glass by the groom, shouts of Mazel Tov echoed throughout the gathering. The ceremony concluded.

The entire gathering, accompanied by the band, returned from the synagogue to the house of the bride. Prior to entering the house, the new couple was greeted by a bucket of fresh water and a decorated cake – as a sign of a full, happy life that should be their lot in the future. Tables were set in the house full of sweets (a zisser tisch).

[Page 56]

It was primarily the young people who went to enjoy this table. Other tables were set up for the family and the older invited guests. A festive meal with “gold soup” (the well–known fat, clear soup) was served on those tables.

When this gathering was literally at the pinnacle of drinking and eating, the jester began, as best he could, to announce in a loud voice the gifts {drasha geshank) that each of the invited guests was prepared to give to the bride and groom, whether money or gifts. The jester called out the name of the giver, and the crowd of celebrants applauded him. Of course, the titans of the community, including relatives, came first. The givers of bog fish or tin sheets came at the end.

The meal finished, and the rounds of dancing began. If the wedding took place on the eve of the Sabbath, the dancing would be postponed until the next day, after the Sabbath. The crowd was enthusiastic and tipsy, and they danced with anything that came to hand: they mixed a stormy polka with the solid waltz. The Cossack dance came after the Sherele[3]. Of course, the tango, quadrille[4], foxtrot and other dances that were popular at that time were also not lacking. In general, the dancing continued until dawn. In the meantime, someone made sure to prepare a nearby side room for the bride and groom so that they could spend a bit of time together, away from the hustle and bustle, before the crowd dispersed.

The celebration, called Sheva Brachot continued during the Sabbath after the wedding. This would usually take place at the time of mincha amongst a gathering of relatives and friends, including the local rabbi and other notables. They would enter to worship and partake of the third Sabbath meal, as was usual on the Sabbath afternoon toward evening. They would preach words of Torah and sing together until well after the Sabbath ended. Thus ended the wedding, which raised the level of life in the town. There were weddings that did not reach this level, but this was different, for it was celebrated in a higher fashion than usual, and was conducted with great splendor.

I have described a specific reality of life in the town. However, Jewish life has perished and is no more. All that remains are gloomy memories, lamenting in our hearts.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Referring to the rabbinic commentaries written in small font in the Talmud.Return
  2. The Hebrew word is “Yichus.” The English translation “pedigree” does not do it justice. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/YichusReturn
  3. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sher_(dance)Return
  4. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/QuadrilleReturn


[Pages 57-65]

Hechalutz in Kobylnik

by Yitzchak Gordon

Translated by Jerrold Landau

It is very hard to delve into the roots of the matter and to determine precisely how Zionism reached our town of Kobylnik; from where did its first buds grow, and who were the news–bearers who began a fundamental change in the spiritual reality of the youth of the town.

 

After the First World War…

The First World War, with all its horrors, fundamentally changed the outlook of the world in the areas of morality, family, and society. The liberation movements of oppressed nations in Europe, which found an opportune moment to liberate themselves from the mighty yoke of the empires and attain political independence, left a heavy impression on the national minorities in those countries.

The Jewish nation, suffused with suffering and bitter experiences, always bore in its heart the powerful hope and desire for the Land of Israel, where they would be able to live a life of independence and freedom in the future. The Jewish youth, who internalized these ideas, were prepared for daring action and for a change in the values of the life of the nation – and this was immediate. The dismal reality in which the Jewish public lived during those times in Poland was also a key factor and moving force for a revolt against convention and the old way of life that disappointed. It gave a push toward forging new routes for the future.

In Kobylnik, as in any small town in Eastern Poland, there was great poverty, and the economic possibilities were limited, without sources of livelihood and income. Many lived in a meager fashion and in want, without hope or possibilities for the future. It is no wonder, then, that under these conditions – with worries about forced unemployment and a cloudy future – the town was ripe for bitterness and dissatisfaction among the youth. The feeling was hard and oppressive, as if the ground was being pulled from beneath one's feet. There was nowhere to escape, for very few could continue their studies in a large city or succeed in immigrating oversees. The youth who lives in the town searched for a means, at any price, to effect a change of the dark, depressing reality that was the lot of the masses. Indeed, these factors as well as others that typified those times in Poland formed the background for the sprouting of the Hechalutz chapter in Kobylnik.

[Page 58]

The Founding of the Hechalutz Chapter

The Hechalutz Chapter was founded in Kobylnik in 1923. The following were among the founders: Baruch Akselrod, Yosef Todres, Gershon Kribicky, Shalom Yavnovitch, Liber Kirmalinsky, and others who joined them. When the chapter opened, efforts for preparation for aliya to the Land of Israel began. Special stress was placed on agricultural work. Some of the members went to hachshara [aliya preparation] in agricultural farms in the area of Vilna to learn how to work the land, and to gain experience in hard physical labor, of which most of them had never had any experience. They leased a large vegetable garden from Mrs. Anyuta Klumel, the town dentist, to grow all types of vegetables during the summer. In the manner of the farmers, who would bring their produce to sell in the town, the first chalutzim also appeared and sold cucumbers, radishes, cabbage, leeks, beets and the like in the market. This was an uncommon experience

 

kob058.jpg
Hechalutz in Kobylnik

[Page 59]

in the eyes of the gentiles and the Jews: Jews selling agricultural produce that they grew on their own!… The chalutzim treated this as holy work, working with great dedication and enthusiasm. They excited all the people of the town, young and old. Toward evening, many of the townsfolk would gather in the yard of the garden to help the chalutzim in their work. The means of work and irrigation were primitive: The water was drawn from the well and brought to the garden in pails. The plant beds were watered with a hand sprinkler. They also had to hoe, prune, and weed. Of course, with the bustle that surrounded the chalutzim in the town, there was no shortage of people who spent much of their time trying to make their own vegetable gardens…

There was also no shortage of Jews with time on their hands who came out of curiosity, as well as pessimists who helped the chalutzim when they came, but spared no negative investigation about the essence of the strange endeavor to which these chalutzim were attached. The types of rough work that these chalutzim were prepared to do did not agree with their way of thinking…

There were also Jews in the town who looked upon the lads in amazement, and did not understand their objective. They regarded them as crazy or wanton people, going beyond the bounds of Jewish tradition. Indeed, it was only the youth who internalized into their hearts the footsteps of the new era, which brought in its wake a revolution of Jewish communal life in the Diaspora. These were the first signs of the transition from spiritual Judaism disengaged from the reality to a new Judaism, which aspires to base itself upon productive work and individual and national honor.

The chalutzim drew this influence from the realities of the Land and the life on the kibbutz. Newspapers that arrived from Warsaw, such as Heint and Moment, or newspapers that came from Vilna – all provided a great deal of news on what was happening in the Land. The life and death of Joseph Trumpeldor[1], the life and teachings of A. D. Gordon[2] on “the religion of labor”, became the ideology that forged and directed the hearts of the youth in the town.

This impetus pushed the best of the youth of Kobylnik to abandon the tendency toward small–scale business as a future profession. Instead, they began to learn productive trades. It is difficult to define exactly the meaning of a proper and appropriate productive trade within the economic realities of that period. It was also hard to define which trades would be needed in the future in the Land. Under the accepted conditions of the time, all hard, backbreaking work was considered to be productive labor. Therefore, many preferred to study carpentry, shoemaking, building,

[Page 60]

and agriculture. They signed up as apprentices in these fields. The pioneering Zionist consciousness deepened step by step among the youth of the town. The circles broadened more and more, and the relations with the movement grew more serious. Even the adults who previously displayed some hesitancy lessened their opposition and went with the new reality.

 

Connection with the Land

The living bridge to the Land, established with the aliya of the earlier ones, also did its part in the strengthening of the ties with the movement. The first of the chalutzim of the town to make aliya was Baruch Akselrod. The elders among us can describe the day of his aliya to this day, a day which is unforgettable until today. On the day of his aliya, the warm Jewish heart, with its love for the Land, was displayed, bursting forth from its hiding place. The vision of all the townsfolk, adults and children, accompanying comrade Baruch the distance of two kilometers to the railway station was impressive. Of course, there was no shortage of tears and weeping – not only by his family members, but also from the entire gathering of people.

 

kob060.jpg
Hechalutz chapter in Kobylnik

[Page 61]

This connection with the Land continued to strengthen, and withstood the test when other political parties tried to discredit the Land in the eyes of the people. There were factions that stormed through the hearts of the youth: particularly the radical Bund, which was opposed to the Zionist camp. However, it did not take hold in Kobylnik. Even the Communist movement failed to gain adherents. There were also other Zionist parties, from the right and the left, but the youth ignored them. Only the Chalutz movement, which was pioneering in its vision and path, found faithful supporters among our townsfolk.

In addition to the organized pioneering aliya, some residents of Kobylnik succeeded in arriving to the Land through personal connections, whether through invitations that were sent from the land, by registering as students in the university in Jerusalem, or even through fictitious marriages and forged documents. All of them strengthened the connection with the Land.

The bloody tribulations of 5689–1929 shook all Jewish hearts in the Diaspora. As a young child, I recall how all the residents of Kobylnik would gather each evening in the market square in the center of the town to discuss the events in the Land in groups. The newspapers that arrived from Vilna in the evening, and were snatched up from hand to hand, did not lack detailed descriptions of the atrocities and destruction that were perpetrated against the community in the Land. As the emotions increased, so did the awakening. A streak of zealotry was ignited within the Jewish youth, who began to prepare en masse to make aliya to the Land.

An assistance fund was set up, and Jews donated money for the rebuilding of the ruins. The tragedy that had taken place caused most segments of the town's Jews to gather around us. Nevertheless, only a few people succeeded in making aliya from Kobylnik at that time, for the gates of aliya were quickly closed by the Mandate government.

 

The Closing of aliya

The 1930s arrived. Even though the gates of the Land were locked, the youth did not give up on the chances of aliya, and many went out to hachsharah kibbutzim in Poland. My sister Devora Gordon (today Bachman), Gita Klumel, Chana Yavnovitch, Yosef Yavnovitch, Asher Krakow, Pinchas Kribicki, Sheinka Janowski, and others went out to hachsharah at that time. New youth joined the chapter and replaced those who had left for hachsharah. In 1933, the writer of these lines along with other members, including Tzvia Chormecz joined. I played an active role in the chapter until I went to hachsharah in 1935. I was given

[Page 62]

the role of secretary and counsellor of the area. These were years of fruitful activity. The breadth of our work increased, and took on the form of a populist movement. Activities took place every evening in the Sholkolt School in Kobylnik. We maintained constant connection with the Hechalutz center in Warsaw, and we also had contact with the regional secretariat in Vilna. We received printed publicity material, and speakers came to direct the youth. We participated in summer camps on Lake Narach, three kilometers from town. One summer camp was under the direction of Moshe Breslowski, and dealt with actual topics regarding the movement during those days. Members of the chapter also participated in regional conventions of Hechalutz in Hoduciszski (Autarkies), Swięciany (Švenčionys), Lyntova, Postawy, and Dunilowicze.

I remember that in 1934, a regional convention was announced for Dunilowicze, 40 kilometers from Kobylnik. The convention was to take place close to Passover, and there were obstacles on the routes. The snow had already melted in some of them, and the snow was still lying on others – so we did not know what vehicle to use for the journey. We contacted three gentiles and convinced them to transport us: The decision was that we should set out in tow trucks. We set out toward morning. We walked for most of the time, for the horses dragged the wagons with difficulty. It was already toward evening when we reached Dunilowicze. We wanted to shorten the journey so that we would arrive on time. A straight, smooth path spread out from before us. It was frozen. This was a large lake whose name I do not remember. We took council about whether we should cross the pond in the tow truck. We supported ourselves on the ice, and we began to advance in the lake. The tow trucks skated properly, and we were all happy… Suddenly we realized that the leg of the horse got stuck in the ice, and could not be moved. We began to feel the ice breaking below us, and we all began to sink… I traveled in the first wagon. Aharon Chadash, Yafa Janowski, and two others were with me. We immediately jumped out of the wagon and began to save the horse. We succeeded in extricating it from its trouble. We retraced our steps, and reached the convention in a roundabout fashion. We were wet and exhausted, but our hearts swelled as we saw the masses of youth gathered in the movie theater hall. The hall was filled to the brim, and the audience thirstily drank up every word from the speakers who spoke from the podium. This served as an encouraging source, promising good.

 

The Work Branches Out

With time, we saw the need to raise the cultural level of the members. We began to make efforts to study the Hebrew Language, history, Judaism, the Zionist annals, and political economy. We also studied about the workers' movement and knowledge of the Land. Indeed, one of the foundations of our work was physical labor, to which we all aspired. We organized

[Page 63]

a group of woodcutters in the town, and we dedicated the income to the welfare of the chapter. We attempted to carry out this work displayed no less skill than did the gentiles, whose hands were expert at this trade.

***

At that time, a chapter of HaOved arose in town. This organization was directed toward the professionals, who did not have the possibility to go out to the hachsharah kibbutzim as did the pioneers, whether because of their age or because they were busy with a family and children. At that time, the Mandate government was dependent on the working element in the land, and they allowed the immigration of HaOved members drop by drop. The members who joined HaOved in Kobylnik were mainly adults, and the form of the organization was foreign to them. I recall how I gathered them at meetings and instilled in them material regarding the workers movement and knowledge of the Land. Their approach was very realistic and practical: they saw in this organization a way of life and a solution to the difficulties in which they found themselves in Kobylnik. They hoped for the possibility of immediate aliya. To our great sorrow, none of them could make aliya, for the gates of aliya were closed, and they did not have the patience to wait for better times, as did the chalutzim. HaOved continued to exist even after my aliya in 1938. It only disbanded after the outbreak of the war in 1939.

We regarded he activities of the Jewish National Fund in our town as especially important and valuable work. We were all united in the opinion that the collecting of money by the masses of Jews in the Diaspora will lead to the redemption of the Land of Israel from foreigners. Indeed, the blue box of the Jewish National Fund caught my eye in every Jewish home that I entered. Every month, we would bring the donations to David Swirsky of blessed memory, the representative of the Jewish National Fund in Kobylnik, to transmit to Warsaw. It is worthwhile to note that he exhibited exceptional dedication and trustworthiness. He found free time for the Jewish National Fund even though he had a family and children.

Aside from the donations through the boxes of the Jewish National fund, we also organized the annual memorial observance of Herzl on the 20th of Tammuz. It was a mourning gathering or a “sorrow academy”. We collected donations there as well. In later years, the memorials for Herzl and Bialik were conducted together. On the eve of Yom Kippur, a propitious time, we would place a plate in the synagogues for the benefit of the Jewish National Fund, among all the other charitable plates. The Jews of the town did not, Heaven forbid, embarrass us. Rather, they responded to this cause willingly. During the years of the Zionist Congresses, we would distribute shekels [tokens of membership in the Zionist organizations] among the resident of the town, all for the Working Land of Israel block.

[Page 64]

A severe crisis afflicted the Hechalutz movement in the wake of the shutting down of aliya by the Mandate government, as well as the bloody events that began in the Land in 1936. Thousands of members were stuck in the hachsharah places in Poland, which were scattered in hundreds of locales, without any possibility of aliya. The despair and oppression began to affect the masses. There were those who did not have the patience to wait for the gates to open, so they left the hachsharah places and returned to their homes. However, most of them maintained their stand and lived with the hope of aliya. There were also attempts by various members to go in an illegal fashion or through some other route, but that took great means, and the majority did not have such means.

 

kob064.jpg
Hechalutz Hatzair

 

This severe situation also affected the existence of the chapter in town. The members who already went out to hachsharah still hoped for aliya. However, only few new members joined the chapter. We understood the difficulties and causes that lead to a decline in the movement, but we did not give up on the path that we had forged for ourselves. We knew that there were good youth in potential, who could fill the ranks and would be idealistic for the Land, although the time was not

[Page 65]

appropriate for aliya. We felt it appropriate to organize the youth, so we set up a chapter of Hechalutz Hatzair [Young Hechalutz] in town. As a young counsellor, I did not have any experience in counseling youth of that age. We always struggled with the problem of which activities to conduct with the youth. We preferred hikes in the field, meetings in the forest, and spending time in the bosom of nature. We devoted a great deal of time to basketball, swimming, and sailing in the nearby lake. Our aim was to strengthen the muscles of the youth, to forge their character and to firm up their image. This path attracted the youth to us. We placed our hopes for the future in this youth.

This chapter continued to exist literally until the outbreak of the war. After I went out to hachsharah, Yehoshua Janowski led the Hechalutz Hatzair chapter in Kobylnik. He displayed immense talent and dedication to matters relating to the youth in our town. Unfortunately, he did not succeed in making aliya, and he met the same fate as the rest of the natives of Kobylnik.

***

The second World War passed, and Jewry was annihilated, including all the youth. Only a few survived, including some who had belonged to Hechalutz and Hechalutz Hatzair in the past. These few found their way to hachsharah and kibbutzim that were set up in Italy. They immigrated to the Land instead of going to other places. The vast majority of alumnae of Hechalutz and Hechalutz Hatzair continue to affiliate with the labor movement in Israel, and play important roles in all branches of labor and creativity.

Let these lines serve as a monument to our dear comrades whose hearts were directed to the Land, but who perished in the Holocaust without meriting to come to the homeland. May their memories be a blessing.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_TrumpeldorReturn
  2. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A._D._GordonReturn


[Pages 66-69]

With the Actualizers in the hachsharah Movement

kob066.jpg

by Aharon Chadash of Petach Tikva

Translated by Jerrold Landau

This severe situation also affected the existence of the chapter in town. The members who already went out to hachsharah still hoped for aliya. However, only few new members joined the chapter. We understood the difficulties and causes that lead to a decline in the movement As a lad of the era, during the 1930s in Poland, I also found my way in the ranks of Hechalutz in Kobylnik. It is difficult for me to explain today the true obstacles that hindered my participation in Hechalutz. There were certainly many reasons for this. Some have already been forgotten or blurred with the passage of time. Only the goals that we strove toward remain etched in my memory to this day. These are: actualization, hachsharah, kibbutz, and aliya. To my good fortune, when I recall that era today, I am full of satisfaction that I was one of the first in the Hechalutz chapter, as well as one of the first from Kobylnik who went to a hachsharah kibbutz. Aside from one or two others, I was the first to succeed in making aliya.

For me, going out to hachsharah was a significant experience. As a youth who grew up in a small town far away from the wide world, I was afraid to leave the bounds of the town and the family circle, to which I was bound with all strands of my soul. Nevertheless, I marched toward the future with my head held high, full of hope that my path was proper and just. I arrived at hachsharah with such feelings.

My first stop was Szczuczyn. This town was not large. hachsharah groups were organized in that place. I arrived in the town, and, without much effort, found myself within the walls of the kibbutz. It was the afternoon, and the members had not yet returned from work. I only found a few female members in the kibbutz, working in the kitchen and in cleaning the house. They greeted me warmly and joyously. This was a very pleasant experience for me, for I had never received such a “reception” organized by ordinary Jews whom I had met along the way while I was walking from the train to the kibbutz. They said in front of me, “So, another fresh sacrifice…” They said this in jest when they realized that I was a “green” kibbutznik.

[Page 67]

Members who gathered around the tables after work in the evening, also made jokes at my expense. This was not plain rudeness, but rather mocking of the reality in which we lived. It is also impossible to hide the fact that there were factions and movements on the Jewish street that operated against Zionism and the Land of Israel in general. Aside from the difficult conditions that pervaded I the land, the conditions in the hachsharah kibbutzim were also difficult and unbearable. Every situation of going out to hachsharah seemed like utter craziness in the eyes of many Jews. When the gates of aliya were closed by the Mandate government, despair began to affect the interior of the movement itself. Many could not continue, and returned home.

Despite these conditions, thousands of members remained in the hachsharah kibbutzim and continued to struggle under difficult conditions, hoping for the opportunity to make aliya to the Land. I was one of them. I was set up with work already on my first evening there. There was no shortage of working hands in the kibbutz. Apparently, however, I gave the impression to the comrades that “one cannot just leave him alone.” I already had broad shoulders, and I was not lacking in energy. This certainly was decisive, for I was already among those who went to the sawmill the next day. I was stationed beside the edging machine. My task was to stop and gather the planks that the machine ejected. I was a strong lad, and it was not difficult for me to fulfil this task. The girls brought a warm meal form the kibbutz for lunch. I ate it with a great appetite even though it was not completely to my taste… I worked at this job for a long time, until I became an assistant to the driver of the transport truck. This is how I entered the circle of labor in the kibbutz with full energy. I exchanged several times according to the demands and the need.

The males and females who I found in the kibbutz from all corners of the country were for the most part “mommy's children,” who were not used to hard physical labor. It took great effort for them to get accustomed to it. Therefore, it was not long before many comrades became ill and could not continue their work. The economy was also low, and the living conditions led to a weakening of the comrades and a decline in the workforce of the kibbutz. Considering that the types of work carried out by the comrades were the basest, such as: porting, wood cutting, and other types – and not only were they difficult and backbreaking, but the pay for them was meager – it is easy to understand the difficult conditions of existence. Indeed, the income was insufficient to cover the minimal level of cost of living. There was also lack of experience in conducting the economy under the unique conditions related to hired work. All this lead to seriously difficult conditions in the life of hachsharah kibbutz.

It is proper to note that there were various fluctuations in the state of work in the kibbutz. Just as we suffered from a shortage of work, we also suffered from an overabundance of work on occasion,

[Page 68]

and we had insufficient workers. We did not have regular workplaces, so all our work was provisional on what came our way. Despite all this, we succeeded, step after step, to improve our living conditions when we obtained a larger dwelling, to improve the economic situation of the members, and to improve the clothing and shoes – for the interim, the clothing that we brought from home had enough time to become torn. With great effort, we also succeeded in arranging hospitalization for the members who had become ill.

At that time, we also began intensive, wide–branched cultural activities. We stressed the learning of the Hebrew Language. We read newspapers that arrived from the Land. We had sessions about the history of the labor movement in the Land and in the world, sessions on political economy, and lectures on topics relating to the life of the nation and the Land. In the evenings, we spent a great deal of time at meetings dealing with actual problems, but we also knew how to sing, dance, and rejoice… These things deepened our recognition and connection to the path in which we were walking. Our faith increased that we would be able to fill our life with them.

 

kob068.jpg
Chalutzim (Zionist pioneers) in Kobylnik: wood choppers

 

This severe situation also affected the existence of the chapter in town. The members who already went out to hachsharah still hoped for aliya. However, only few new members joined the chapter. We understood the difficulties and causes that lead to a decline in the movement

[Page 69]

After close to a year and a half of live on the kibbutz in Szczuczyn, I left with a small group to Neman to strengthen the group that was organized there. I did this voluntarily, for I felt that I had gained experience where I was, and I would be able to give something to the new group. However, since the new place did not have the power to absorb new members due to lack of work, we returned to Szczuczyn. From there, I went to the kibbutz in Lida.

This kibbutz was much more firmly based than its predecessors. The members of the kibbutz had become involved in many branches of work, I among them. I worked at all types of arduous work until I was certified for aliya. My turn came to make aliya to the Land.

 

kob069.jpg
“Hechalutz” in Kobylnik

[Pages 70-77]

The Education in Our Town, Kobylnik

In memory of the children of Israel in Kobylnik, who were killed by the persecutor

by Meir Yavnai (Yavnovich)

Translated by Gilad Petranker

Edited by Toby Bird

One of the foundations of Israel's existence living among the Goyim was undoubtedly the education of the younger generation and its training to the well– set life accustomed for generations.

And it is therefore clear that in the weave of life that the Jewish people had created in the Diaspora, the deep concern and devotion for education stood out. It is therefore impossible to describe the life of a Jewish town in the Diaspora without giving education its rightful place. But this task would not be easy when I come to outline the education in our town Kobylnik, since I would have to rely on one single source– remembering the things from 20–30 years ago, and more.

In is obvious that many of the things have become blurry in our memory over the years. The deeds and things which will be told, are bound to be lacking or have a surplus in them; even their sequence would be hard or even impossible to set. And along with all of these serious flaws it would be impossible to remove our attitude to things, which with time changes and obtains a manner of a subjective admiration for the past, sometimes with a sentimental hue. Even in normal days this is the situation, then in our times, after the Holocaust and the destruction, after everything we cherished was lost and completely destroyed, our words would definitely suffer from the mentioned attitude.

And along with all of these, it would be difficult for us to give a true and impartial description of the tradition of education in town owing to the lack of clarity and instability of the time which we are about to describe. This time of the past twenty years before the destruction was a transition, when the foundation and patterns of life that were set solid for generations were destroyed and left derelict. It was a time of change of values, but the new ones did not yet consolidate and did not yet take the place of the old; even the content and the trend of aspiring for something new were not clear enough. And of course, it is hard to describe things which are in motion, taking form, whose shape is not set and clear.

There were many towns, including our own Kobylnik, that conducted themselves on a far–off, side path, away from the main road of the general Jewish life. Only distant echoes from what was being done and what was changing in the general Jewish life had reached these towns, and had left a very small impression on what was taking place in them. Indeed, in slowly and even slacking steps, the town walked on the path of changes. Numbness and weakness marked what was being done. And these things are not said as an accusation, but in order to give the facts as they were and as I view it through the mirror of time.

 

The purpose of educating the generation

And to the matter of fact: the subject of education is composed of a set of different problems, and each generation sets first the purpose of the education itself, according to the way of life and to their aspirations. For many generations, the purpose of education in the Diaspora was clear– to educate the generation on the lap of Torah and the practical Mitzvas, so they would keep on weaving the well–set tradition of life, based on the foundations of the Torah in practice. The instruments to achieve this purpose are also properly and well–set for their task.

The path led the boy from the Cheder for the toddlers, through the Cheder for the advanced in studying the Torah and from there to the Yeshiva– the university or the high school to train the professional students of Torah, rabbis, spiritual leaders and sages, who embrace the world of written and oral Torah. But not every place in Israel had a whole set of these institutes. It depended on the number of residents and the talent of the place's leaders who took care of the education.

And what did things look like in our town Kobylnik?

I remember that when I turned five years old, I was one day put into the Cheder with an old woman named Channah was working as a teacher, the wife of my uncle Avraham. I'm trying to explain this to myself today: why did a woman have a role of a teacher, a Melamed? These were the days of chaos after the first world war; there was not enough time, probably, to establish a Cheder to educate the children who were wandering around aimlessly; everyone was looking for a way to bring their sons into the schooling of Torah. This Cheder was in the apartment of the teacher and was the only one fitting for the living of the family. In this Cheder boys and girls studied together and there I had the experience of taking my first steps in reading in the method of those days: Kamats – Aleph–Ah, Kamatz – Beit – Bah etc.

 

The Melamed Rabbi Chalvina

The second Cheder, which definitely occupies an important place in the memory of that generation who were lucky enough to stay alive, was the Cheder of rabbi Chalvina, at the house of Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Yanovski, first on Ahuzza St. and then on Pastov St. not far from the bridge. In this Cheder the studies were conducted using the system predominant in all the Cheders of Israel at the time, that is reading out loud by one group of students while other groups would memorize their lesson with a whisper. There were few groups – according to the level of their knowledge. Group A for those learning how to read and group B for the more advanced– who already knew how to read and were brought in to the hall of the Chumash. In this group, they would read verse by verse, or word by word, and translate it to Yiddish. This method was called back then “Ivri Taitsh.”

As for the relationship between the teacher and his students: Rabbi Chavilna did not divulge his teaching pleasantly. For “persuasion” this Melamed would often use his hand, or he would grab a stick, or a whip that was especially prepared beforehand for this purpose. Indeed, we were amply whipped.

There were two main offences which we would be whipped for: 1) not listening or not knowing the material for any kind of reason; 2) other “occupations” or games during the lesson while the mouth utters out loud the verse and its translation – and the hands are busy with exchanging buttons or any other kind of notions, for peas or any other way of payment.

Nevertheless, despite the severe system and the many punishments, the Rabbi was unable to suppress the natural urge of the children to play, and to make all kinds of mischief. The urge to play and the joy of life set in the soul of the boy found different outlets, sometimes good and healthy and sometimes destructive and making the Rabbi's life miserable.

 

The Cheder of Moshe–Zelig

Another Cheder which many probably remember was the Cheder of the town's resident Rabbi Moshe–Zelig Chaddash. In his Cheder they would learn Chumash as well, the laws of Israel according to the “Chayei Adam” and “Shulchan Aruch” books. Furthermore, in Rabbi Moshe–Zelig's Cheder the foundations of writing and arithmetic were given.

The studies in the Cheder were conducted all through the year and during the entire day, in two seasons or two “Zmanim,” each having a short break of two weeks: after the summertime– during the High Holidays and Sukkot, and at the end of wintertime – about a week before Passover and up until the end of the holiday.

On the days of winter, going to the Cheder we would equip ourselves with lanterns to light up our way going back home from the Cheder late at night. In the room of Rabbi Moshe–Zelig the studies were conducted in a narrow and elongated chamber by the kitchen, as it says in the folk song “a small narrow and warm room…,” but the problem was that this chamber was not always warm, which is so charming to us when today we hear this folk song with its sad melody, a song which brings us memories of childhood. This chamber was also used by the Rabbi as a chicken coop and a warehouse for all kinds of tools and objects for which he couldn't have found a better place. At night, after the pupils left, they would take the chickens into this room for their night's sleep. More than once, we would find in the morning physical evidence of the birds. After they would be driven out, evidence that was left on the tables and benches, that would soil our clothes, and the special smell of the birds and their litter that were not always taken out, would often welcome us. But Israel had been educated for years to accept torments with love, and the children of Israel were also educated in this spirit and were commanded to be quiet.

 

Learning and discipline

The educational means in the Cheder of Rabbi Moshe–Zelig were not much different form the ones I mentioned in the Cheder of Rabbi Chavilna. Physical punishments were widely dispersed in big portions and mainly at times of anger and rage. The physical damage was substantial, but even more severe was the damage to the spirit of the boy since it was not always just and proportional. It is no wonder therefore that there were many to “break through the fence”: the more the Rabbi was harsh, the more incidents of breaking of discipline occurred. Let me demonstrate with an example, one out of many. It was most difficult to study in the long hot days of summer. In those days, the Cheder was an isolated island in the beautiful world of God. All around – lovely wood and field, stream and river, songs of birds, and gardens of fruit trees. Countless temptations would draw the heart of the boy from the narrow suffocating Cheder to the outside world. Yetzer Ha'ra, the “evil urge,” would rise in the children's hearts especially on market day, which was held every Tuesday. On one of these market days, in the beautiful warm summer, I asked permission of the Rabbi to step out for a few moments– that is, to go to the bathroom, because that was the only way to be permitted out and to have a few minutes of a break. I flew like a bird out of its cage. I dashed straight into the marketplace with its crowd and noise. My feet carried me between the wagons and shops that were full of the good of the earth and its produce. My eyes could take their fill: here are the peasants in their special costumes, the wagons and the produce; here are the buyers and sellers and their tumult. How different was this world from the world of the narrow, suffocating Cheder. The child's spirit, yearning for freedom and experiences, couldn't have its fill on those moments. I wasn't the only one who desired to break out of the Cheder, out to the open. One by one, many others could break out like me and joined the group of wanderers in the marketplace. But everything must come to an end… how dear was the price we had to pay for submitting to the bad urges!

That Rabbi, after seeing that the Cheder had become almost empty, understood that he has been deceived and prepared the young delinquents a proper welcome. I, the first offender, hurried back. I just opened the door of the Cheder, and a resounding slap from the bony fingers of the Rabbi landed on my face, with many more to follow. I saw stars. I was shocked and didn't know what happened to me; only my feet acted in the right direction and carried me to my place by the table. But the Rabbi did not settle for this natural weapon, meaning his fingers, and took the whip and with it was able to make me forget the pleasure I cunningly won. I sat by the table weeping and only comforting myself with the suffering of the other pupils. As it was said, “Misery loves company.” One by one and out in the open, unlike in Bialik's poem “without being seen,” the rabbi, lurking behind the door, would welcome them with his blows, whips and slaps, which grew in strength with the entrance of every new offender. We accepted what was coming to us as obvious, not to be disputed, and I have no doubt that the rabbi was also content with himself and with his well–used means of education, which he partook to keep the discipline in the Cheder, to set an example.

I did not say these things to persecute the performer of the deeds or his actions; neither will I judge the justice in the acts, since this is not the right place for it. Nor will I judge the efficiency of these means. I just set out to present this fact in order to illustrate the general ways of education, as they were conducted in most of the Cheders of Israel. It is obvious we cannot judge these ways by modern criteria.

 

New winds

And new winds started blowing in our world. As mentioned, the new cracks in the wall of the old education were seen. Life demanded improvements in education, its expansion and adaptation to changing needs. And in those years, the years of values beginning to change in our town, the one who started spreading knowledge in town was Rabbi Eliyahu Almog, the son of Rabbi Eliezer, a soft Yeshiva student, wearing glasses and well–liked by the children. His speech was calm and his nasal voice poured like soft oil on the spirit of the children, who were used to the harshness and severity of the Melameds. In the room of this Eliyahu we learned grammar, also, as well as Hebrew, using special readers, writing and arithmetic, and if I remember correctly, also Russian, the state's language. Arithmetic was often taught with Russian books, which were filled with hard and complex problems that had no relation to actual life. I don't remember how many years or “times” the Cheder of Rabbi Eliyahu existed; neither do I know today how and why his Cheder ceased to exist.

The days came of wandering around aimlessly. A boy's education was usually not taken care of after coming out of the mentioned Cheders. Once there was a rumor that in the neighboring town of Globoki they had opened a Yeshiva. Some of the teens headed to that Yeshiva to absorb Torah, but because of the harsh conditions and the new winds blowing from all around, their sitting inside those walls did not last long. This fact proves how helpless and lost were the graduates of the Cheder. And today I cannot comprehend the notion of helplessness and weakness in town in those days toward the continuation of education past the first years of the Cheder.

 

The corrected Cheder and beginning of school

And in the meanwhile, the cracks in the Cheder widened until it collapsed completely. The word “school” started sounding through the air of town. On the ruins of the Cheder, two teachers – and not Melameds – who arrived from one of the towns in the district, started a kind of school, or a “corrected Cheder.” Indeed, by our modern standards this institute, which resided in the synagogue, was far from a modern school. At the head of the institute stood the teachers, Isaac Lifshitz and Arie Friedman. (The first one is today a teacher in Uruguay, and the second is in America serving as a Gabbai and Shamash in a synagogue.) There were a lot of students in this school at first, but with the passing days the excitement vanished and they became fewer and fewer, until the ladies' section was enough to have all of them. In this school, new subjects were taught, which had names that were not commonly understood, such as geography and nature. The study of arithmetic was according to the Russian arithmetic books mentioned before. The main novelty was teaching Tanakh by the new method of Hebrew through Hebrew, by the commentary of the “Mikra Meforash.” But even this novelty was not very efficient according to modern views, since the study of the Nevi'im Rishonim and Nevi'im Aharonim was completely literal, with neither life nor soul. The main emphasis was put on finding the meaning of the Hebrew word in Hebrew, but the spirit of the prophecy, the vision of the prophets and the content were trivial and had no place in this teaching.

However, this school was a step forward from its predecessors, although the physical punishment reigned supreme there as well, and the degrading words used for students by the teachers are still echoing in my ears to this very day.

The one specializing in degrading words in Russian was the teacher Lifshitz, but it should be said in protection of the teacher Friedman, that he was well–liked by his students, even though he would lose his temper with his students more than once.

The fate of this school was similar to the ones that came before it. I don't remember how it vanished. One of the teachers, Isaac, left town after spending two or three years there, and the other teacher, Arie Friedman, went on privately tutoring individual students or groups in his house. Many of the children of Israel in town started flowing to the Polish school; I who am writing these lines, studied at this school for a whole year, which was called “Powszechny” in short, meaning “general”. Of course, the children of Israel were driven away from the Israeli culture by this, went astray from its values, and were educated in a foreign, hostile atmosphere.

 

The school and its various colors

And in those days the Hebrew school of the “Tarbut” administration started putting down roots in the Jewish towns in Poland, but did not reach our town. Also, many schools of the Tzisha company were established in many towns (schools which taught in the Yiddish language). There was a fierce war raging between the two types of school, as part of the more general war between Hebrew and Yiddish. But in our town, the neglect was evident in the field of education, with only faint echoes of this struggle reaching it. A few young people, both boys and girls, wandered far to higher institutes of education; the word Gymnasium started have its charm, but only a few, as mentioned, could get to that hall.

In the last years before the Holocaust, our town, Kobylnik, won its own actual school, in a special building that was initiated by some of the town's leaders. This school, which was established by the “Scholl–Colt” company, belonged to a new Yiddish chain of schools that was established at the time by nationalist Jews who'd had enough of the nature of the Yiddish Tzisha schools. The people of Scholl–Colt did not accept the Yiddishers' attitude to Zion and to the Hebrew language; with all their loyalty to Yiddish, they were nationalist Jews who were positive in their stance toward the Zionist movement and the Hebrew language and gave them a proper place in the new schools established, especially in Vilna. The early days of the Scholl–Colt school in our town were very hard, struggling against financial and social adversities throughout its existence, and indeed– it did not persist.

 

Toward the bitter end

In the meanwhile, the hatred toward Israel grew constantly. Echoes started coming of what was being done to our brothers in Germany. The anti–Semitic venom infiltrated forcefully through the streets of the small town. The hatred and animosity brought a financial boycott on the Jewish shops, which were struggling, and the sages had already said: “If there is no bread there is no learning.” The school did not hold on in the town, which grew poorer and was struggling to survive– and perished. Again, the spiritual and cultural neglect returned, after it was driven out for a short while.

The war broke out. The town was conquered by the Russians and the end came for all Jewish culture and all its facets. And with the German occupation and the Holocaust– everything came to an end.

 

kob076jpg
Chorev School in Kobylnik

[Pages 78-81]

The Economic Life of Jewish Kobylnik

Kob078.jpg

by Chaim Yavnai

Translated by Joseph Schuldenrein

Edited by Toby Bird

 

How did the Jews of Kobylnik support themselves? What was the community's social fabric, its economic base?

Kobylnik's economic as well as its spiritual source emanated from Vilna, some 105 kilometers to the northeast. The district seat was Postov [currently Postavy in Belarus] 26 kilometers to the north. Postav was the administrative center and housed the governmental agencies including the office of the district commissioner, the Tax Bureau and similar departments. As noted, however, it was Vilna that served as our regional cultural capital, as it did for the entire network of towns in the district. Our commercial connection to Vilna was by train. At that time, the railroad ran along the “narrow tracks” to the town of Lintup; from there the “wide tracks” continued all the way to Vilna. Wagon drivers frequently shuttled from Kobylnik to Vilna for commercial purposes; in the summer they transported their wares on wagons and in winter on carts attached to the rear of the wagon. The round trip generally took five days.

The town's population was a third Jewish (65 families, 300 people) and two thirds Gentile. The latter included Poles, White Russians, and a number of Greek Orthodox. There were also a few Tatar families. Most of the non–Jews were in the farming sector (alternatively peasants) while most of the Jews were either merchants or shopkeepers.

The Jews owned grocery stores (they carried anything from heating oil, flour, and cooking oil to sewing needles and thread, and shoelaces); there were also fabric shops, shoe stores, and butcher and fish shops. The local apothecary was Jewish–owned. Besides the flour mill–that belonged to my father Shlomo and his brother Dovid–– there were no factories or any type of industry in Kobylnik.

The Jewish shops were closed Saturday and Sunday. Sunday was Poland's official Sabbath. On that day the local farmers crowded into town for church services and ceremonies. The Jews did not observe Sunday and business was performed informally and inconspicuously. Since most of the Jewish shops were adjacent to the owners' residences it was possible to conduct business easily and without outside interference.

The town had a small number of families (5–6) whose livelihood was fishing. Kobylnik was only 4 km from Poland's biggest and best–known river, the Narach. Jewish families in the fishing business owned both summer and winter nets and their fishing enterprise was operated together with the village farmers and peasants from the nearby towns Kupa and Psinki.

In the later years, the (Polish) farmers bought their own nets and eventually the Jewish families abandoned fishing altogether.

A number of families, amongst them Yanovski and others, leased fruit orchards seasonally (in summer) from the local noblemen, and they supplemented their incomes that way. It should be noted that orchard leasing was extensive and attracted Jews from as far away as Vilna and even central Poland; they competed for rights with the locals. The competition often bordered on the combative. Arguments for leases grew especially fierce when the trees began to bear fruit, around Passover, even before the extent of the season's yield and productivity was known.

Almost every Jew had a vegetable garden and a barn cow on his property. The animal waste (fertilizer) was sold to local farmers in exchange for equal quantities of potatoes (after harvest).

Other Jewish families simply tilled the soil. Those Jewish families (Glot, Milkman, Yanovski, Gordon–Joshua) leased parcels from local farmers and worked them. Typically this work was not a primary, but rather, a supplementary form of income. The Yanovskis, for example, sold pottery to local farmers during Market Days. And David Glot was the representative for the Singer Sewing Machine Company. He would travel from town to town, trying to convince the farmers' wives to purchase the newest models.

What forms of work and sources of income did Jews almost deliberately avoid?

During the winter and summer seasons they would buy chickens and eggs from the peasants; in winter the farmers brought to market dried (smoked) mushrooms, pig hairs, flax and flax seeds, foal (horse) hides, fox furs, rabbit skins, and the like. and the vendors found a willing clientele amongst the Jews. Kobylnik's Jews, in turn, assembled parcels for shipment and sale to Vilna.

The commerce in fish was not solely retail. Kobylnik, as noted, was situated near the banks of the river Narach and became a commercial center for fish sale and distribution. Local farmers came in from the countryside bringing fish into town and sold them to Jewish merchants. As in the case of other items and wares, Kobylnik's Jews repackaged and redistributed the goods to Vilna. In winter the ultimate destinations for the fish supply extended as far as Warsaw. Along with these standard shipments there were also deliveries of Poland's dietary staple, apples.

Tuesday was the designated weekly “Market Day” in Kobylnik. Farmers, peasants, and locals from all over the area descended on the town in their wagons and assembled in the Market Square: sellers and buyers alike. As expected, the Jewish merchants looked forward to this day all week.

There were Market Days in most towns in the vicinity. In Postov that day was Monday. In Myadel and Hidotzishok [now Adutiskis], closer to Kobylnik, it was Thursday. The local merchants typically checked out all the local markets during the designated Market Days of the week.

 

Kob080.jpg
At a general festive gathering in town

 

The butchers bought beef, lamb, and veal on Market Day and sold largely to two main groups: to the local Jews and to local (district) government workers (chiefly police, teachers, and postal agents).

On special occasions Market Days were combined with street fairs. Kobylnik, like other regional towns, hosted a number of them. These were especially prominent affairs. They attracted large numbers of peasants and villagers. The Jews anticipated these days with baited breath and counted the days until the next such event.

Of course, Kobylnik also numbered many artisans in the town. These included shoe–makers, tailors, and tinsmiths; there were also two blacksmiths.

The majority of Jews derived their income from the local rural folk and their economic situation, with very few exceptions, was depressed. I would note that the situation of the Gentile population, economically engaged in tilling the soil and crop agriculture, was also quite depressed. The main reason for this was that the soils were rocky and largely unsuited for high yield crop production.

There was yet another economic activity favored by the Jewish community of Kobylnik. It was very noteworthy. Almost every family in town had relatives overseas. And these relatives, who had left their families years earlier, never forgot their kinfolk (in the “Old Country”) and sent them money and consumer goods on a regular basis. For this reason the town's residents held their overseas relatives in the utmost esteem.

Until the entry of the Red Army to Kobylnik, in September, 1939, the town sustained a Charity Fund (“Gemilut Chasadim”) which was linked (with collected proceeds) to the network of collection charities centered in Vilna (called “YaKaPa”). Later the administrative center of the Charity Fund was moved to Warsaw (referred to as an “Interest–Free Center for Credit”).

The YaKaPa was run by an elected Executive Committee, that managed lending and credit matters on a volunteer basis. The Committee was headed up by my brothers David and Sholom. They ran it for years, and my brother and I took care of the accounting at the time. We all gave unstintingly to this organization.

Almost all of Kobylnik's residents were members of “Gemilut Chasadim”. The Fund would issue loans up to 250–300 zlotys, with a bi–weekly dispensation of up to 10–20 zlotys, all interest–free. For this reason the Fund assumed a unique position in the town's legacy.

 

« 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.

  Narach (Kobylnik), Belarus     Yizkor Book Project     JewishGen Home Page


Yizkor Book Project Manager, Binny Lewis
This web page created by Jason Hallgarten

Copyright © 1999-2019 by JewishGen, Inc.
Updated 27 Jan 2018 by LA