by Pinchas Kariv (Krivitzki)
Translated by Ann Jaffe
Edited by Toby Bird
One can't remember everything after so many years, but some episodes about a oneofakind individual remains engraved in my memory. One such individual was Yishayahu Yosef Gordon. In town he was called Shaye Yoshe the Beadle. Young and old knew him by this name. Why was his title Beadle? I don't know. If they would have asked me, I would have called him president. Why not? I am not sure if a president would have taken upon himself so many obligations than the socalled Beadle did, all this not for pay, but for the sake of Heaven. Everything and anything that needed to be done in town he did, without being asked. He was always the first one to do it and his initiative energized others.
At a wedding in town, he was the first guest (mechuten) to arrive, more dedicated than the real relatives. He put up the Chuppa (wedding canopy) on four poles near the synagogue and he sang the wedding songs and the prayers. If, God forbid, someone got sick in town, he was the first one to visit them. If a tragedy happened and someone died, he was the first one to come and make the burial arrangements. If money was needed for the poor to celebrate the holiday of Passover, it was he who collected the money for support. If a woman remained an old maid because she did not have a dowry, it was Shaye Yoshe, who saw to it that money for a dowry was gathered. If a poor maiden married and did not receive gifts, it was he who went door to door and gathered wedding gifts for her.
When someone fell on hard times and had no income and could not heat the house in winter and the family was cold, it was Shaye Yoshe who clandestinely dropped off a wagon of wood so that a Jewish family with little children would not freeze to death.
He looked like a birch tree in the forest straight, tall and with his long legs constantly marching from one end of town to the other. One could see him everywhere: Passover, in the Matza baking place and in the bath house where Jews made their dishes kosher. He was the only man in town to whom anyone in need could tum. If someone was ailing and thought it was an evil eye, they call on Shaye Yoshe.
He had a long white beard and looked like a patriarch, the way we imagined our patriarchs looked when we were young children in grade school (chader). His presence evoked respect and humility (derech eretz). In the synagogue he was king. Everything was done according to his requests. During Sabbath and the holidays he would decide who will conduct the morning service, who the additional service (musaf), who will be called up to the Torah, and who will do the other parts of the service. Everything was properly and carefully calculated and arranged.
Before a holiday one could see Shaye Yoshe in his fullest glory. Dressed in his holiday attire, he sparkled with happiness. It gave him special pleasure, before the special prayer the evening before Yorn Kippur, when the so called nicest (richest) men in town would prostrate before him on a strawcovered floor and he would give them lashes in the right place (for their transgressionsan old symbolic custom).
When he entered the synagogue, silence would fall. All the mischiefmakers would close their mouths and become quiet. I alone had a special privilege to get to know him better than all my friends. Since we lived near the synagogue, he often took me to help him light the big gas lamp that hung in the middle of the synagogue. And so, before every Shabbat and every holiday, before the worshipers gathered to greet the Sabbath, I was his helper because he couldn't do it himself. His fingers were getting stiff and began to shake. I was good at it and did it relatively fast. Later on, I had something to brag about to my friends, telling them stories about Shaye Yoshe.
As long as I can remember, he did not have a wife. She probably died earlier. I remember that he had two daughters in Kobylnik, neither married. Their names were Bertha and Chava. If I am not mistaken, a young son of his died after WW1. Two of his daughters emigrated to the USA. Shaye Yoshe had the privilege of dying a natural death in 1938 before the German murderers occupied Kobylnik and murdered most of the Jews.
To us Shaye Yoshe was known as uncle Shaye Yoshe. He was my grandfather Hertzl's brother. Since my grandfather died very young (he was in his midthirties), and my grandmother Rivka was left with five little children, Shaye Yoshe became a surrogate father to my mother Chava and the rest of her siblings. My mother was three years old when her father Hertzl died of pneumonia. I was seven years old when uncle Shaye Yoshe died. I remember him very well. My mother was a very close friend of his daughters till the last days. We have a couple of pictures of Bertha, Chava, my mother's older sister Slava, and my mother (also named Chava).
I, Ann Jaffe (Chana Swirski) and my brother Joshua Swirski often reminisce about our old home town of Kobylnik.
For the title I chose Memories as opposed to Remembrances.
Translation by Janie Respitz
Edited by Toby Bird
This was the end of the 1920s. The town's youth were idle. A few went to work every day and the rest just hung around. There was nowhere for them to spend their time and the time passed slowly. In the autumn and winter, when it was dark and the mud in the streets came up to your knees, they all sat confined at home feeling sad. It was during these times that a group of young friends in town decided to found a library to enrich the consciousness of the youth and raise their cultural level.
In order to carry out this idea we needed a source of funding to buy books. We had the idea to use our own artistic talents, and put on a show. We would sell tickets and from the money we would raise, we would buy books. We also realized that the monthly fee of our members would bring in some money as well.
Although we were not actors, we took on all the roles of the play. For our first performance we chose Motl and Kopl written by Sholem Aleichem. The Participants were: Boruch Axelrod, Bayla, Michal and Yitzchak Yavnovich, Dobke and Liber Kirmelisky, Ite Raize and Yechezkel Todres, Gitl Klumel, Dvoshke Yanovsky and others. It goes without saying we chose the best we had, all the young, beautiful kids, actors each and every one. The teachers from the Yiddish school helped us out, as did Yitzchak Levitan and Chaim Lipe Svirsky, who were a lot older than we were, but they considered our goal worthwhile.
We worked very diligently. There was a lot to worry about, beginning with decorations, sets and other behindthescene preparations. I remember until today how we went from house to house collecting tablecloths for the curtain. We also collected wood for the stage and benches to sit on.
Another issue was to find an appropriate venue for the performance. The Poles in town had a FolkHouse, but Yiddish theatre was not permitted there. We had to manage with what we had. After a lot of searching we found a large place that belonged to Shepsl Berger. It was used as a warehouse for produce like potatoes, apples and other things. We had to empty the place and prepare it for a theatrical production.
Slowly we arranged everything, and after many long rehearsals that took place in the evening there was one thing left to arrange to obtain permission from the authorities to perform. Since we could not get it, we decided we would still go ahead without it, but unfortunately, we were mistaken. The night of the performance, tickets already sold, the audience was seated and awaited the curtain to go up a policeman came and ordered everyone to leave. In short, our complaints didn't help; we were forbidden to perform and we had to refund the money from ticket sales.
But despite this failure we were not giving up. After many attempts by Noach Todres to the authorities in Postov, we received permission. The performance took place a few months later and it was a great success. We managed to raise money and buy books; the library in Kobylnik was founded.
The library slowly grew until until the big fire on May 1st 1930. The entire library went up in smoke.
But we did not give up. After the fire we turned to the surrounding towns we even went to further ones and asked for help in the form of books, in order to rebuild our library. And really quickly they sent us books, and the library once again existed.
Parallel to the library endeavor that instilled great enthusiasm among the youth, we found another branch of work sports and football. If I remember, our football team was made up of Jewish boys and a few non Jews; together we competed against other teams from the area. Sometimes we would be the guests in another town like Svir, Pastov, Sventzion and others. Social activities with nonJews in those days were still possible.
Also, a wind orchestra was founded by the fire fighters, also together with nonJews. We gave concerts and had solemn events which were very successful.
And now there are only sad memories for those who survived, and an emptiness gnaws deep in our hearts for the life which has disappeared and will never return.
by Yehoshua Svidler
Translated by Janie Respitz
Edited by Toby Bird
Kobylnik, which was situated on the road between two large cities Vilna and Pultusk was quiet all week; the town was cut off from the outside world. It was rare when a free thought entered. Our parents lived according to their understanding: raw and primitive like nature, pious, good and modest, happy with their fate and not worried about a thing. Time went on at a natural pace. From time to time a peasant's wagon would lose its way and end up in our marketplace. The squeaking of the old wooden ungreased wheels and the wild screams of the peasant to his horse woke up the shopkeepers of our town from their dreams. All faces were now turned in the same direction.
Meanwhile the peasant stops, like a nobleman, in the muddy marketplace. He unharnesses his horse and gives him something to chew and majestically walks through the mud. The first to take advantage of this visit are the goats. They fall upon the wagon and help the horse eat. They waste a lot of hay and make a big mess. While searching, they find a bag filled with oats. The horse stands naively and helpless with his head down. Meanwhile the goats eat with zest. The peasant notices what's happening and comes running with anger. The goats sense the danger and run away.
Kobylnik is known far and wide for its goats. Even the residents received the nickname Kobylnik Goats. They wander through the streets freely, in the marketplace, eating from the peasant's wagons, straw from the roofs…yes, every poor man had a couple of goats and a lot of children.
We kids couldn't stand the pigs. We persecuted them bitterly. Their central place was in the middle of the marketplace. They would spread out in the mud and enjoy sun bathing. For pleasure they would close their squinted eyes, spread their piggy little legs and oink happily. What can you compare this to?
My friends and I would hail stones on these guests. Not living and not dead they would run in panic squealing like pigs.
The Flock Comes Home
The town looked different in the evening, the sun setting in the west, behind the church, the flocks coming home. The sleepy town would awaken for a short time from its dreams. The clamour and noise fill the air, the dust blocks the sun. The four legged creatures bring a bit of life for a while.
The first to arrive are the pigs. They always have to be first…running as if they were coming from Hungryland. Their long ears hang down over their small eyes. They can hardly see. Their little feet carry them quickly so they can get to their food as fast as possible.
After them the sheep come running, trembling. Frightened and helpless, they jump on top of each other. Sometimes they just stand still, look around and cry with such a pitiful voice that it tears your heart, then continue running. Then the goats come but it is more difficult for them to run as their udders are full.
The cows appear different. They walk slowly with measured steps, half sleepy and lazy. They stop and stand around at each gate, look around and begin to moo; they let everyone know: they are arriving.
Night falls. Nature sleeps. Everything has sunken into a deep sleep the forest, the town. It is quiet all around. You can only hear the water running in the river. The waves are playing joyfully. From far away you can hear the croaking of frogs; they are singing their requests to the night kings.
The night queen rules with her charm. From a nearby forest we hear dull voices. A mild wind blows through the grasses in the field and caresses the flowers in the garden. The whole world sleeps. Our little town sleeps as well.
At Night in the House of Study
In the long winter evenings the elderly would sit in the House of Study (Beit Midrash), reading a page of the Gemorah or Eyn Yakov warming their cold limbs. It was a pleasure to spend a cold, frosty winter night by a warm stove and listen to the interesting stories people told. Here is where you could hear and learn everything; of course, no gossip was lacking either. One would learn that Yankl's cow was about to give birth, whose wife was about to deliver and whose potatoes froze in the cellar.
Meyer the dyer sits at an open Gemorah, the pages soiled from milk. He sits and learns. His melancholy voice rings through the entire House of Study. The crowd absorbs every word. From time to time Shaye Yoseh hands out a sniff of tobacco from his twisted tobacco pouch that is on the table. Sometimes, the learning is disturbed by a loud bang on a book. This is the beadle demanding the crowd to be quiet and not disrupt those wanting to learn. The silence would resume. You could hear the clock on the wall ticking.
In a corner, beside the Holy Ark, Shabbatai sat and read to himself. He swayed with great zeal, and the wooden bench moved with him. His voice was sad, soaked in troubles and prayer; this was carried through the whole House of Study.
In another corner, Yakov Yosef sits and tells stories. He was a smart Jew and people liked listening to him, a fine little man with a scant white beard, with happy, laughing eyes. While recounting his stories he always held his beard, as if explaining a difficult law. With eyes half shut and with a quiet voice, he measured and calculated each word. He was capable of keeping his audience in suspense.
He would always begin with the phrase What else do you need? This is what happened to me… and he would begin his story with such great enthusiasm, his audience would swallow every word. Silence prevailed. You could only hear the melancholy ticking of the clock. The memorial candle flickered like a man about to die. The shadows strode secretly on the walls. A pale shine from the candle barely lit the big building. The frost outside crackled. You could hear it clearly. The windows were covered with ice.
It was a hot summer day, begins his story. That day I was at the fair. In the evening after everyone already left, I set out for home. The road led us through a thick forest. The peasant was sleeping. The horses pulled us slowly along the sandy road. I was deep in thought. It was dark; we could not see a thing; we could only hear the panting of the horse. It is unwelcoming. A shiver crawls on my skin. Often, the horse perks up his ears as if he hears something. I wake up the sleeping peasant and ask: ‘Where in the world are we?’ It appears the horse went in another direction, off our route. The peasant got down from the wagon, tapped around in the darkness and felt a living creature, and what do you think it was.
But Reb Yakov Yosef doesn't rush. He keeps his audience in suspense, and a little while later he continues: It was a sheep. We were both able to put the sheep in the wagon…
Until the listeners heard the end, that the sheep was in fact not a sheep, but a ghost in the shape of a man, and that they suddenly began to laugh loudly, jumped off the wagon and disappeared they sat spellbound, as though they experienced it.
The little flames from the candles flicker. Shadows of people swinging like phantoms, the hands of the clock are not standing still. They remind the people that it is time to go home.
Simchat Torah Rhymes
Simchat Torah has arrived Firstly, we must thank our beadle Shaya Yoseh. He was a joyful and happy Jew; and a great Hasid. He excited everyone with his songs and attitude.
But he was not alone. As the whisky poured like water, many of our respectable Hasidim showed us what Simchat Torah was all about. Eliyahu the shopkeeper, a fine, respectable Hasid, showed in his way, what Simchat Torah means. He sang and made merry, although it was difficult to understand him: he spoke through his nose, and not clearly, but came out with such rhymes that made people roll with laughter. Jews are blessed Goyim have malaria.
When Simchat Torah fell on Shabbat the Kobylnik housewives were not sure about their Cholent (Sabbath stew). Black Leyzer together with a few other Hasidim removed everyone's Cholent from the ovens and ate in the middle of the marketplace. And there, while everyone was eating, Shaya Yoseh would show off his rhyming talent; a few have remained in my memory. The song was sung according to the alphabet and everyone joined in the refrain:
Workers who are hard at work, drink wine and make a blessing.And so on.
Wagon drivers travelling along, drink wine when they are afraid.
Thieves sitting in hiding, drink from clay pitchers.
Judges who pass judgement drink the best sorts.
Merchants who go to the market drink from a full jug.
Women who sit at home drink wine and eat olives.
Cantors who stand at pulpits drink wine from a pretty jug.
Jews who partake in Torah drink wine when they are scared.
A All are dressed like the rich.
B Barefoot are the poor.
C Cooked chickens are eaten by the rich.
D Doubts and worries belong to the poor.
E Eating chicken soup is enjoyed by the rich.
F Full of pains are the poor.
G Garments of satin are worn by the rich.
H Huts are inhabited by the poor.
I Intricate clothing is worn by the rich.
J Joy is unknown to the poor.
K Kingly chrome tanned calfskin boots are worn by the rich.
L Light woven hemp boots are worn by the poor.
M Men are obviously the rich.
N Numbskulls are the poor.
O Ornate satin clothing is worn by the rich.
P People who are meek are poor.
Q Quality plush is worn by the rich.
R Ragged are the poor.
S Shershevesky's cigarettes are smoked by the rich.
T Titon Machorke Polski cigarettes are smoked by the poor.
We also sang songs in three languages like this:
Candle in Hebrew Yiddish and Polish
An Oven in Hebrew Yiddish and Polish
And so on…
This was Simchat Torah.
Shaul Yonah and Shlomo Meneh
Shaul Yonah was a mid sized man. He fancied himself to be an educated, modern person. He was always well dresses, clean shaven, with a pair of gold glasses on his red fleshy nose, which he was always blowing. He walked around like a puppet. This is how he was referred to in the town. His steps were measured. He spoke matteroffactly and calmly; he actually calculated his words. He was deaf and filled his ears with cotton, in winter and summer. When he spoke to someone he always held his hand to his ear to hear them better. He earned his living at a tavern where he was the lessor, but the real boss was his wife; he could really depend on her. He was able to have fun with his neighbour Shlomo Meneh.
Shlomo Meneh was an intelligent man with a grocery store. Besides his business he was a writer in the rural district and sent his books to the administrative office. He wrote petitions for the authorities, contrary to all the functionaries. He managed the books of the community, inscribing marriages and births. In one word, he was the guy the functionaries dealt with; the police superintendent himself would come to visit. He would walk around, in those days of the Enlightenment, in a short jacket and a trimmed beard, with a gold pincenez on his long nose. He would sit with Shaul Yona by a boiling Samovar and play chess.
Esther Chaya the Cupping Placer
A Jewish woman who always did what God asked of her. Her job was cupping, particularly among the Christian villagers. This was not extremely hygienic. Her medical instruments were tin cups and a rusty little knife. Before she would place her cups, wet or dry, she would already receive a basket of potatoes, or a pot of peas and both parties were happy.
by Meir Yavni (Yavnovich)
Translated by Gilad Petranker
Edited by Toby Bird
The spiders of hatred
It was toward the end of 1934, the days of the flirting between the rulers of Poland and Nazi Germany. A sun of late summer shone and warmed the world, which started declining on a slope of calamity and evil. The evils of the world started planning their evil thoughts, like the prophet had said (Yeshaya 59 5): They hatch cockatrice' eggs, and weave the spider's web. But the world did not yet know that He that eateth of their eggs dieth, and that which is crushed breaketh out into a viper.
Concealed and in the open, the spiders of hatred weaved their schemes against the free world, and especially against the Jews. The fruit of this hatred started ripening. On those days, a wild inciting for boycott started against the Jews. In the marketplace, watches were marching next to the Jews' shops to prevent any kind of bargain or commerce with the Jews. The audacity of the various persecutors of Israel and their call Jews to Palestine accompanied us everywhere.
The story of a Christian peasant
On one of the first days of autumn I happened to go to the post office. And that time, a Polish or Byelorussian woman from the neighboring village came in, and worriedly said that her six or sevenyearold son was lost and missing, and asked the post office clerk to call the Strusta (the district governor) in Potzbi and ask for his help in searching for her missing son. In her story, she emphasized one detail that interested me, that on the day when her son disappeared there was no stranger in the village, apart from a yellow Jew, a peddler, who was buying rags. I couldn't hold back and I asked what did that Jew have to do with her missing son. She replied with mock innocence that she meant no harm by that, it was just that no other stranger happened to be in the village that day, no one she could suspect that might have any connection to her son's disappearance. Her intentions were crystal clear despite her socalled innocent attempts to avoid the problem. The post office clerk replied that it was not his job to call the district's governor and that she should go to the police about the matter. She claimed again that she was indeed sent to the post office by the policemen themselves, who advised her to do take that action. The plan was probably set beforehand, and the woman was directed to act that way by the foundations for whom this incident acted as good material to incite against the Jews, as they did at the time. And as for the clerk he did not comply to the woman's request and insisted that in his view this was not the correct way to take care of the incident.
At that moment I understood that a plot was being made against us, but I did not imagine that this would grow into an actual blood libel that would upset the entire town and the area, a libel that would be used to grease the cogs of the hatred for Israel, which started turning quickly in those days. The rumor of the missing boy spread fast and the tale about the yellow Jew who kidnapped the boy went all around the district. Of course, the intention of kidnapping the boy was his blood, needed for baking the Matzos of the Jews in the upcoming Passover.
The hatred for the Jews grew from day to day; it was felt in the air. In the evenings, incited thugs would gather on the streets of the town. There were also incidents of glass shattering in Jewish houses and it was dangerous for Jews to go out at night. The libel was adorned by the inciters with details, letting their imagination and hatred flow freely. They even named the names of the wealthy house owners in town who donated their money to bribe the authorities so they would not act against the committers of the crime.
After a week or two from the day the woman appeared, the boy was found in the forest, dead, sitting under a tree, with one of his arms gnawed, probably by birds or an animal. In her investigation the woman said that on that day she went to the forest to gather up wood and the boy followed her. She sent him away several times and ordered him to go back home but the boy kept on following her. When she went into the forest, he disappeared, and she thought he went back home. But apparently, he went into the forest as well and couldn't find his way back home nor find his mother, who went farther from him. In an autopsy, a government doctor determined that the boy had died of fear and hunger, since leaves were found in his stomach which he tried to eat to deal with the hunger. The boy was reburied and it seemed that everything would settle down after the libel was proved wrong, but that was not what happened. The hatred for Israel grew stronger every day, nursed in a well devised plan by the antiSemitic foundations in town, whose main purpose was push away the Jews from their financial positions and to take their place in commerce and craft. These foundations included teachers, policemen, officials, who held a poisonous incitement and went on nursing the hatred with the use of the libel, a weapon which they were not happy to give up. So, they spread rumors, that the government commission, which was set to determine the boy's cause of death, was bribed by the Jews of town and of neighboring towns and even named the sums and the names of wealthy Jews who donated large sums for the purpose. The venom of hatred went on spreading and gave its signs. On the market days, there would be an air of Pogrom, a mass lynching. The peasants of the area would stream in to town with sacks for the loot, and blunt weapons like axes and knives to wreak havoc on the Jews. Things came to a point where every week the authorities had to draft the entire police force of the district in order to keep the peace, because it was not in their interest back then to give complete liberty to the incited mob.
The incitement goes on
On one of the days the district governor happened to come to town, the Jews of town sent to him a delegation, which I took part in as well, since I was proficient in the Polish language. I extensively talked about the state of things in the ears of the governor and asked him to protect the lives of the Jews in town and their property. The governor promised to do everything in order to keep the peace and to stop the incitement.
Again, a governmental committee of inquiry was set up, this time on a higher rank, by the regional governor in Vilna. The corpse of the boy was once again dug out of the grave and meticulously checked in the presence of Polish citizens from town. The ruling was identical with the one of the first committee and was made public on the billboards, along with the warning to stop all acts of incitement and spreading false rumors. But the incitement did not stop; this was organized by antiSemitic foundations in the place and drew its inspiration from above. Even the persuasion of the town's Jews by the priest, who had a critical influence over his Christian congregation, didn't yield anything; the priest was also antiSemitic. And more market days went by with the fear of riots, and reinforced police forces kept the peace in town. The accusations of libel kept up for about three months and subsided only with the approach of Christmas. But the hatred for Jews and the incitement for boycott went on, and it was well known who were the ones pulling the strings, but no restricting action was taken against them because plain hatred of Jews and incitement and boycott was a formal line of action of the authorities in all of Poland, inspired by the nonaggression pact between Beck, the Polish foreign minister and Hitler, damn his name. It should be mentioned that years after the incident, a teacher from the government school would take her class, among whom were children of Israel, to the Christian cemetery, to visit the grave of the mentioned boy and would explain how the boy was murdered by the Jews.
The opinion of enlightened and friendly Goyim
About the libel I remember the version of one of the Goyim who used to visit us. He was the Soltis (the representative of the civil rule and its messenger, a sort of official), who one day came to our house and wanted, as an enlightened friend, to sweeten the bitter story of the libel. And so he said with great importance, that he does not believe, God forbid, that we, the enlightened and advanced Jews have a part in using Christian blood for Matzos, but it is known that there is a dark and zealous cult within Judaism, and they performed the kidnapping of the boy, and even us Jews did not know who they were. So he tried to speak positively of us. But my mother, who had civil courage, threw harsh things in his face: I hope dogs will lap the blood of the haters of Israel, and have no need of the blood of Christians. The friend heard these things and parted shamefully.
We did not know in those days and did not imagine where this poisonous hatred would lead. We hoped that this murky wave would pass, as it did more than once in our history, and the haters of Israel will be lost but They hatch cockatrice' eggs and the Jews of the world ate from these eggs and died; died in multitudes, when they were led by the vipers and the cockatrices to be slaughtered.
by Yehoshua Svidler
Translated by Janie Respitz
Edited by Toby Bird
Kobylnik was blessed with fires. A legend circulated in Kobylnik that older people would tell, that a curse hung over the town, cursed by a righteous man who lay buried in the cemetery forgotten by the community.
The legend said that Kobylnik must burn every twelve years. Who knows if Kobylnik burned because of its wooden houses and roofs made mainly of straw, or because of the curse of the righteous man. Facts are facts every twelve years the town burned. We heard about the fires of 1894 and 1906; the fire of 1918 we witnessed as children but the great fire of 1930 was clear in our memories. (By the way, Kobylnik burned again in 1942.).
It was a beautiful summer day, Thursday May 1st. Many of us were by chance at the market which was taking place in the neighbouring town of Myadel. It was very early. The town was just waking up from its sleep. The houses were standing as if dreaming. Silence ruled. No one could even begin to imagine that soon the devil's dance would begin that would bring fear, pain and despair.
The fire began on the other side of the bridge, from Postover Street. The town now awoke from its dream and everyone ran to help. To our great surprise the fire was carried to the centre of the market, a distance of 400 metres and jumped like a wild animal from one courtyard to another. The wooden homes covered with straw and shingle roofs flared up like torches. The crowd was wild and scared and ran to save their belongings but the town was surrounded by a sea of fire and no one knew what to do. The mayor immediately told the surrounding area that Kobylnik was burning on all four sides.
Meanwhile the fire spread more and more and consumed one house after the other; the wild flames were like turbulent waves in a stormy sea that raged undisturbed. The giant pillars of smoke and flaming sparks tore towards the sky and blocked the sun shine. The crying and wailing and crackling of the burning fire mixed together like a wild concert.
Soon fire fighters from eight surrounding towns arrived, but unfortunately, there was nothing left to extinguish. They were able to prevent further spreading, but they lacked water the river was depleted. It was also difficult for them to approach the burning streets due to the terrifying flames that the storm winds were enlarging. The flames rolled on the soil like poisonous snakes.
We were then notified that our study house began to burn! From the shingled roof there were small flames like little candles. We ran with all our strength not to allow our synagogue to burn; if this had not been successful, the other half of the town would have been in danger.
The fire lasted until late into the night. The town looked like a cemetery; the black smoking chimneys looked like tombstones; everyone was frightened. The houses on the other side of the market stood helpless; in the window panes one saw the red sheen of burning houses. The fire did not want to calm down and in some places grabbed the opportunity to claim more victims. The halfburnt embers shone and gave out a greenishyellow flame, and with a devilish little tongue searched and waited.
People went around broken and embittered. Everyone stood by his ruin and poured tears on the hot stones. People strode around among the destruction and mourned as if for the deceased.
It took a long time for the town to return to its former self, and was rebuilt this time not from wood, but from stone and brick.
by Meir Yavni (Yavnovich)
Translated by Gilad Petranker
Edited by Toby Bird
This was the way everyone called him YeshayaYosef the Shamash (Shaya Yoseh Shamash). He was tall with an upright stance. He wore his white beard long, dressed throughout the year in a faded gray Bekishe and wore a sash that had its ends loose on both sides, in the custom of the time.
He was called Shamash by everyone, but in practice he was the spiritual leader of the town for many years, an unanointed Gabbai who has never been elected. With the changes taking place in the life of the town, so did his position start to wane in the last years before the Holocaust. But I can still remember the days of his glory, when he was still the leader or ruler of town.
As a little boy, I would follow all his actions at the synagogue, that was almost under his ruling alone. With great curiosity, I would look at him while he was standing next to the cabinet in the corner of the synagogue, where its treasures were hidden, such as wine for Kiddush and Havdalah, cups, candles, siddur, a box of snuff with which Shaya Yoseh would like to treat the people coming for prayer, Tallit and Tefillin for guests who might need them, a Besamim Biksle perfumes for smelling and other objects of ritual.
With envy, I would stare at him, with his hands taking care of the various objects in the cabinet, wanting to go into the secret of the treasures hidden in the cabinet. But I looked at him only from afar, since a stranger might not go into the realm of ShayaYoseh, who would terrify the mischievous brats trying to cause trouble in the synagogue. Indeed, his upright stance, his angry glare, his scolding would remove any desire to perform such acts, and when he would approach to put everything back in order, the children would flee full of fear.
I remember he gave me the privilege of having a conversation with him, in which he revealed his conservative views. He had harsh things to say against the Bibliateke, the library, against the foul books, that he saw as Terefah, an abomination. He completely denounced the importance of both the words and authors who wrote them Mendele, Shalom Aleychem, Peretz and others. What value does their writing have, what point? All their writing is useless and empty. What are they worth, compared to the sacred books, which contain the living words of God, which will stand forever. And the writing of these authors is heresy; they are foul and their writing is foul, unworthy things which spoil the generation. Only one path stands before the Jew the path of Mitzvas and Torah, while the Bichlech the booklets came to destroy our world. I listened silently to what he was saying, though not in consent, but I dared not go against him and argue, because who was I, the little boy, in front of the tall whitebearded Shaya, who everyone deemed important.
As mentioned, ShayaYosef was the unanointed leader of the town, unlike other Shamashim who had the other roles in the synagogue, such as feeding the stove, bringing water, lighting candles, cleaning the bathroom etc. He was a Gabbai who was never elected, with a constant uncontested authority, which did not expire after the end of his term. The simpler roles of the various services were conducted by his deputy, Yosef the fisherman (Yoseh der Fisher). ShayaYoseh was an owner of the synagogue of sorts, handling the finances and the orderly conduct, the rituals and all the capital it held. The leaders of prayer were often at his mercy. Will they be allowed to pass in front of the Ark or not? Will they get a decent portion like the Musaf prayer on Shabbat or on the High Holidays, or only a weekday prayer of Minha or Shaharit? His determined intervention and ruling in this matter, as in in other subjects, would often cause resentment and would be even a source of fights, especially on Shabbat and holidays, but ShayaYoseh would insist that it was his right to rule on these matters.
On Shabbat, he would sometimes delay the reading of the Torah when he thought there was an urgent public matter to be resolved, or when he thought that someone had done something abominable, to his view. He would go up on the platform, give the table a strong pat, and announce: I am delaying the reading, and loudly lecture about the reason for the delay. His stance would sometime arouse opposition and plenty of resentment. Heated arguments would arise, but usually ShayaYoseh's opinion would get accepted, or the controversy would end in a compromise that would be to everyone's satisfaction.
The distribution and selling of the ascents to read the Torah would all be managed by ShayaYoseh. He would fight a bitter battle when he thought there was a need to help those in need in town who were deprived, the sick or other unfortunate people. He would firmly demand that those in need of help from the majority would not be left alone. I remember that he once harshly attacked those heading a charity fund Gamach that was operating in town at the time, and that was headed by my brother Shalom, God rest his soul, for refusing to take out money to help a poor family to help treat a baby who was terminally ill. He would not be convinced that the fund was for loans and not for charity, and yelled out: One soul in Israel has to be sustained, even if it is a baby, because it is unknown what will become of this baby; and it is written one who revives one soul, it is as if he revived the entire world.
True to this view, in recent years he started to regularly go from house to house collecting charity for treating the sick. In a squished notebook, he would write the names of all the heads of family, and divided the page into columns according to the week's Parashah. In summer and in winter, in autumn and in spring, in snow and in mud, in heat and cold he would march from house to house collecting the few pennies for Bikur Holim, treating the sick. He would write down the money he collected in shaky hands, with his head shaking as well, because in the last years he had Parkinson's disease.
On times of holidays, the figure of ShayaYoseh would shine, and he would have a countenance of joy.
Then he would be of good spirit, wearing his black satin Bekishe, put on a special sash, and on the eve of the holiday he would come early to the synagogue, preparing the gas lamp. This job was somehow very important to him and did not belong to his deputy. He would do this job very carefully. On his normally angry face would spread a wide and hearty smile; when his hands started shaking he would call in his neighbors to help in the task.
Like a commander over an army he would go every morning from house to house with a linenwrapped Etrog in a special box in one hand, and his second hand holding the Lulav. With great importance, he would march through the town's streets, visiting every Jewish house, greeting with the holiday's greeting when he enters the house with a special delight and immediately inviting for the Mitzvas of Netilat Lulav and Etrog everyone present young and old, women and toddlers, with a wide smile on his face; he immensely enjoyed the fact that he was able to merit all of town with this Mitzva. After Sukkot, he would put the Lulav and Etrog in his special cabinet; from the Lulav he would pull strands to wrap the Arba'at Minim, the four species, the next year, and the Etrog he would keep for jam. On Purim his feet would tread through the melting snow and mud on the streets of the town holding a plate of Mishloach Manot.
His actions and importance were great on the eve of Yom Kippur in the synagogue. He would set the table, which held all of the charity boxes. Wearing a white Kittle and holding the whip in his hand, he would call in the heads of family to stand behind the platform, and they would come one by one to stretch on the haycovered floor, receiving the whipping in the custom of those days. He would count his whips one by one, with a smile hiding between his mustache and beard. Along with the whipping he would also receive his salary.
One could not imagine a wedding taking place without ShayaYoseh being actively involved. He was the sovereign of the synagogue next to which the wedding ceremonies would take place in the courtyard, and of course he was the chief director of the ceremony, the head guest; his voice was heard out loud when he would call the parents of the bride or groom to bless their children.
And from joy to grief. He was the head of the Chevrah Kadisha; without him no funerals would be held. All the preparations involved in the funeral, setting the place in the cemetery, purifying the dead, the order of the funeral all these were done under his direction. And so he would write down the date of the passing in his special notepad, which he would keep in the mentioned cabinet. Indeed, he was also the first in the feast that the members of the Chevrah Kadisha would hold every year on the month of Kislev.
Even though he was arousing against him the opposition and resentment of the heads of families in his severity and his extremity with his stance which they did not always appreciate, he was well respected by all, and would be forgiven after the anger would subside because ShayaYoseh was a part of the view of town, a part of its flesh and blood. It is hard to imagine the character of the town and its view without this tree, without his white beard, his raging eyes, his tall figure, his smile in times of holiday, his voice delaying the reading, his direction of the holiday rituals, the funerals and his firm opinion on various public affairs. If he would have gone from town one day, while the life of town was still shining and vibrant, it would be as if the soul was taken out of a living body, as if one of its limbs were cut off.
And this tree fell off the body of town before the break of the Second World War which brought the Holocaust; so he was spared the horrors of the Holocaust and all the bitter trials that his flock experienced those who stayed alive. May his memory be blessed and reside deep in our hearts with the memory of all the other sons of town.
by Yafa Pertzov (Sheinka Janowski) of EinCarmel
Translated by Jerrold Landau
Life in town began early in the morning. In the summer, when the night was short, and dawn appeared early in the east, the town shepherds would also arise early to lead the flocks out to pasture. The mooing of the cows and sounds of the sheep and goats blended with the creaking of the gates through which the animals went out to pasture. The bustle all about woke the townsfolk up from their deep sleep aside from a few who were undisturbed by all this, and continued to sleep. At that time, the blinds moved from their places, and heads of people could be seen here and there through the windows of the house, as they breathed fresh air into their lungs and refreshed themselves from their morning weariness. People began to go out to the streets from various corners, and everything came to life in the market square. Everyone was hurrying to their jobs, such as the shoemakers, smiths, and locksmiths, looked as if they were in a rush. Wagon drivers hitched their horses to their wagons, so that they could get to Lake Narach, about three kilometers from town, as quickly as possible, to load up the fresh fish that had been caught a few hours previously and transport them to the big city of Vilna.
In the Market Square
The market square was the center of the town, surrounded by shops. Business was quiet all week, and the earnings were meager, except for Tuesday, the regular market day. That day, farmers streamed in from the nearby villages. Jewish merchants from the region also came to conduct business as peddlers, stallkeepers, or in any other form. I recall that when we were small children, we waited impatiently for the market day. The screeching of the stall keepers announcing their merchandise out loud, and all the other bustle around, left a deep impression in us. It was a unique experience.
Preparations for the Sabbath
Preparations for the Sabbath began as the weekend approached. Mothers would send their children to the rabbi to purchase yeast for the baking of the challos for the Sabbath. The following day, the aroma of fresh baking would waft from the Jewish houses, heralding the onset of the Sabbath.
In the afternoon hours, at candle lighting time, the Jews of the town would be wearing their festive attire, and a festive splendor would radiate from their faces. Even the children were clean and tidy, and they would be wearing their Sabbath clothes. They accompanied their parents to the synagogue. The feeling of the Sabbath enveloped the entire town. The appearance of the streets changed.
Without Class Warfare…
Even though we cannot escape the fact that there also were more wealthy and less wealthy Jews in Kobylnik, most of the Jews were poor, living in a meager situation, and lacking livelihood. Nevertheless, none of them reached the conclusion that there must be a change of the social and economic order. Even though there was a wide gap between the different groups of Jews, there was no room for class warfare. On the contrary, the relationship amongst all the Jews of the town was quite heartfelt and honest. Rather than a battle, people felt a sense of a common fate. All residents of the town, without exception, felt connected. These feelings of solidarity came to expression at times of individual sorrow, as well as with the full participation at times of joy. We must especially note the mutual assistance offered by the community to anyone in need.
This reality disappeared and will never return. Only deep agony and sorrow rest deep in our hearts.
by Y. Gordon
Translated by Jerrold Landau
It was the pleasant and elongated end of summer of 1939, the time when potatoes were harvested from the fields and the late apple harvest for those apples that have ripened in the interim. I enjoyed the splendor of the nature around me and the beauty of the atmosphere in Kobylnik.
At that time, I returned to my parents' after a long period of absence, which I spent in several hachsharah kibbutzim in Poland. It was also after a long period of activity in Hechalutz, Heclahutz Hatzair, and HaOved in Kobylnik, preceding my time in hachsharah. It was good, therefore, to be at home once again, and to rest. The brief vacation that I received was designated for the preparations for my aliya, and to bidding farewell to the members of my family. My free time enabled me to calmly summarize the recent past and to wait with anticipation for the unknown future.
With the telegram that I received, statingmake aliya, and succeed, my new reality for which I had waited many years draw closer. From that time, I knew that the time had come, and that a change in my way of life would take place with my aliya to the Land.
It is difficult to describe the feelings of joy that overtook me at that time, and it is difficult to describe the emotions of my family. I still recall the face of my mother, of blessed memory, with tears flowing from her eyes, and how her stare accompanied me wherever I went. The question as to whether we would see each other alive again certainly afflicted her. Indeed, her suspicions were not in valid… My dear father acted as if he was in control, and did not allow himself to show any weakness in his diligence to prepare and pack my belongings… When we parted, he said with tears in his eyes:Remember, my son. Do not forget us. Succeed in your new path. My older brother patted my shoulder and said,Be strong, and do not worry! He expressed his hope to see me in the Land. To my sorrow, his hope did not materialize.
It was Friday afternoon, before the Sabbath entered the bounds of the town. Some people were still busy working. Since the time was brief, I used a bicycle to ride through the whole town to bid farewell. I went from house to house, not skipping any door. How could I leave the town without bidding farewell to everybody? Everything there was so close to my soul. We were literally like one family. Small barriers disappeared within a moment. I clasped the hands of my friends, and bid farewell to the all. It was a day of
blessings for me. My heart was overflowing with joy and emotion… Along with this, the expressions of sadness and lack of faith that were clear on their faces were no lost on me… Just recently, there were many who related to aliya to the Land with skepticism indeed, what happened?…
Indeed, new winds began to blow over the Jewish street in the cities of Poland at that time. This was after incidents and antiSemitism burst forth from every corner.
More than two decades have passed since then. When today I think about the past, about all those who once were and are no longer, I recall that sense of farewell that I felt on the day of my aliya. Visions of the town, of brothers and sisters, flash before my eyes incessantly. I see them all, hear their voices, and sense the expressions on their faces and the look of wonder in their eyes.
Just like then, I wish to pass by every house in the town, without skipping over any door, and to tell them all about the small and big things. All of them are so well guarded and fresh in my mind, as if time stopped moving… All of them appear before my eyes with the individual story of their lives.
I remember them with trembling, awe, and love.
Translated by Jerrold Landau
From the meeting that took place on Wednesday, 24 June, 9 a.m., here in Kobylnik. Organized by the executive committee of the center of the committee for the Yeshivas of Vilna.
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