by Abba Lande
Translated by Roslyn Sherman Greenberg
Cantors and Prayer Leaders
When we say that Lida was a musical shtetl (forgive me, my fellow townsmen for the use of the word shtetl), it doesn't mean that great composers, famous concert masters or opera singers came from it. We just mean to say that Jews from Lida were always great fans of a little good singing. And if the Lida world had not one good Cantor, it was because their ideas surpassed their financial ability to support a good Cantor, or to stop him from seeking a better living elsewhere.
I remember the awe with which Jews from the older generation used to tell of the accidental visit to Lida of the Vilna Young Householder It was already at the time when he was disturbed and used to wander alone over fields and woods. On a summery evening, a young man with a strange appearance, a little ragged, suddenly came into the Bais Midrash, and asked that they let him lead the evening prayer. Well, a weekday evening prayer, what can happen? There are always those eager to make a little fun of such a strange person. So they let him. The funsters were ready to mock and ridicule. But suddenly, a tenor voice rang out, leaving everyone with their mouths open. In the middle of the week! They understood who this was, while they had already heard of him. He finished praying, and no one noticed how he left quietly and disappeared. A lot of time has passed since this event. Figure it out: the Vilna Young Householder died around 1850!
Whether Lida Jews weren't able to keep a Cantor because of their big ideas, or because of a different reason, there weren't any great Cantors in Lida from ancient times. The first time we hear of a Cantor from Lida is in the eighteen hundreds. He also attained renown outside the borders of Lida and her nearest neighbors. This was
In recent years Lida Jews heard the older generation reminding themselves with longing of Mayer Lider, who was for them the ideal of a Cantor, both a singer, a sayer and also a master at a cappela. Prayer leaders and householders who loved singing, used to sing his pieces.
To our regret, nothing remains in writing of his compositions (at least nothing that can be found), although we are told that he wrote musical notes well. Bits of his prayers remain in the memory of the writer of these lines, the way he heard them from his father, and a small fragment is brought here (without a guarantee of accuracy). We were also not successful in finding biographical material about his derivation, where he got his musical-Cantorial culture etc., also from whence came the large number of children that he had, except that they said they were from four wives, about whom, it seems, he worried little.
We only know that in the eighteen hundreds he already was the Lida Cantor. They used to relate certain things about his musicality. Near his bed, which stood by the white-coal stove, he always held a coal. Thus they would relate: In case a thought should come to him in the middle of the night, he would be able to write it immediately on the wall. Thus his head and his body were always in the world of music.
He was an artist with a constantly restless spirit. Often he would wander around together with his choir to cities and shtetls, far from Lida, often leaving the city without a Cantor for a long time. It happened one time that the householders gave up hope of his return, and hired a new Cantor. This was Noach Lider. When Mayer Lider heard, he turned around directly and came back to Lida. A great division of opinion was inflamed in the city between two sides the Hassidim of Mayer Lider, and the followers of the new Cantor, Noach. According to the narrator, there weren't enough stones in the brook for the battle. It seems there was a certain time when there were two Cantors in Lida, each in his own synagogue.
Mayer Lider did not return from one of his trips. As we heard, he died in an old age farm, lonely and forlorn, far away in a strange place.
Noach Lider (Zaludkowski, 1860-1931) was Cantor for a few more years in Lida (and which Cantor remained in Lida more than a few years?) until the big fire. He was also loved by the householders, even Mayer's Hassidim. Afterwards, he went to Kalish, where he remained as Cantor for forty years. Nevertheless, the name Lider remained his name, by which he was known more than by his family name Zaludkowski.
Noach had more luck than Mayer in that he left a son (Eliahu), who followed in his father's footsteps. He was a knowledgeable musician and Cantor, and also an excellent student and writer. He put some of his father's compositions together with his own creations in a book for Cantors, which was printed under the name Noach's Prayers and the works of Eliahu.
Patshimak was from the modern school of Cantors who were in Lida since the beginning of this century. He was a cantor with a musical background. After several years in Lida, he went to Warsaw where he was Cantor in his own synagogue, (so our townsman Yakov Ilitowitz told us). After the first World War we heard about a course for Cantors that was taught by Patshimak.
Aphendik was the second from this modern school, and like Patshimak he left a reputation as a brilliant Cantor. As it seems, he was also a businessman in the city. For example, when the Cantor had helped the Kazianer Rabbi, Kramnik, they related in Lida: It was 1903 when the Kaiser Nicolai II rode through Lida and leaders of the Lida community welcomed him, among them Jews. The atmosphere was very strained. It was a restless time. There were special security measures taken around him. Kramnik suddenly didn't feel well, and as the Kaiser came toward the Jewish delegation, Kramnik had such a tremor that he couldn't say a word. The Cantor, who luckily spoke good Russian, did not lose his aplomb, took from the Rabbi the silver tray holding the bread and salt, and made the blessing from the Jewish community. He, also, didn't stay long in Lida, and left for London (quite a spring!) where he was hired as a Cantor.
Rabinowitz (they also called him The Yellow Cantor) was in Lida, I think, until 1910 or 1911. There is nothing remaining to remember him, other than that he was one of the beautiful Lida Cantors, and if he left Lida, it was not his fault. Lida householders surmised that the Cantors wanted the title of Lida Cantor as a springboard to careers further away.
We called them modern Cantors, not just because of the new trends, new manners (a Cantor in a broad cape, speaks Russian,) but something also ended in the soul of Cantorial behavior. Together with the old commonplace versions, the Cantors started to bring in the Western European choral style, or even arias from operas. Many Cantors sang Mimkomo in the Kedushah, with the melody from Elezar's aria in Heloise Yidishke (Zhidavka in Russian); or Kulam Ohavim from Shacharis with the melody from Troubador.
Weinhouse was the last Cantor, who stayed in Lida a number of years. He came from Chernigov around 1912, and he lived in Lida through the First World War. There he married off his daughters and thus, as we say, put down roots in the city. Yet, after some years, he left for America.
Weinhouse was a fine musician, well founded in both music in general and also in Jewish music, also an observant Jew who would sit down with a page of Gemarah in the Beis Midrash. Half of Lida kept singing again and again his orchestral rendition of Al Tira and the melodic Emes V'Emunah (by Seidel Rovner, whose student he had been), B'Tsait Yisroel and other of his compositions.
After Weinhouse, Lida remained without a steady Cantor. Several Cantors, who became well known later, tried to take on Lida Cantorial duty. Among them, Teichtel (later a candidate for Warsaw Cantor after Siroten), and also, no more and no less, than Moshe Koussevitsky in the first years of his career (when he was still Cantor in Zavels shul in Vilna), but it didn't come to be a match.
The Cantors received their salaries from the budget of the Great Synagogue and from Beis Midrash (where they used to pray in the winter because the Synagogue was too cold). The salaries were not the only income they received. They had to go to timely gatherings, like weddings, etc. where the Rabbi, Cantor, and Shochet each received a small amount. In our times also, the Cantor used to go around at Chanukah time with the head Shamash (Sexton) of the synagogue (Yakov Lande) to the respected householders who used to give them Chanukah Gelt (three or five rubles was a donation from a middle class householder; a smaller amount was received by the Shamash.) Our townsman, Yakov Ilitowitz, tells us about the older times, before Cantor Patshimak, when Seidel Voss used to go around with a coinbox, collecting for the choir.
Besides the Great Synagogue and the Beis Midrash, there were in the city another twelve houses of worship, larger and smaller (not counting the Rabbi's Minyan in the house of Rabbi Reines, and later, until the First World War, in the building of the Yeshiva). The Kitsvishe, tailors, shoemakers, carpenters houses of worship, the burial attendants house of worship, two Hassidic little shuls (Koidanover and Lubovich), Vilna Street, Zaretsher and Kaminker houses of worship, Tiferet Bachurim, Saltz house of worship. There a whole range of prayer leaders took up positions. Thus the Jewish folk melodies were carried on from generation to generation from the traditional Yiddish prayer chants.
The psalm readers held a special place among these folk singers.
I'm reminded from my childhood of the warm feeling, saying psalms in brotherhood in a wintertime between mincha and maariv in the burial attendants house of worship with Yedidiah (Yedidke) the Kirschner as leader. [Note: Kirschner is the German word for furrier & may well be the Yiddish word as well. In the days before Polyfil, this was an important occupation in countries with cold winters].
From the long, narrow table with psalm readers, old and young, over the collections, by the dim light from two standing naptha lamps, they intone the monotonous chant of the sad melodies, passage after passage: a passage read by the leader, with his clear pronunciation and ringing voice, and a passage by the congregation. A mixture of old and young voices, that blended together in one choir. And thus chapter after chapter, a long way from Psalms to Lamnatzeach until they came to the last chapter of Yom. The melody asks to become more lively, more raging, and more heartrending. Each passage ends with Upwards and Upwards, as if with something of a question, a plea without an answer
And from the holy day to the weekday weekday melodies.
Theater performances and entertainments
Entertainments, or simply amusements, in Lida (and also in other Jewish Lithuanian cities) were probably a foretaste of later developments, as, alas, when did a Jew from olden Lida have time, outside of Shabbat and Yom Tov, to think of amusing himself? The shops were open, according to the popular custom, until eight or nine o'clock in the evening. When they heard the policeman's whistle, they would wait a part of an hour behind a closed door (in order not to be reported). It was the same story with the workers who worked till the late hours of the evening.
Nevertheless, sing they certainly could, in Lida as in all other Jewish cities and shtetls, not only in synagogue or small houses of worship, and not only for celebrations and amusements. Workmen sang about the hardship of making their livelihoods.
Thus works a shoemaker,
This is how he raps.
He labors a whole week
And earns six groschen with a hole.
And thus works a tailor etc. (and maybe their young wives sang and lamented their fate). Seamstresses sang, drawing their thread, or running their sewing machines, or ironing the new garments, dreaming of a more beautiful world with a clearer sky. The usual worry of how to provide for the Sabbath inspired the following little song:
A weekday we must sing;
A weekday we must scream
The whole week
And Shabbat we must pray ..
There was also no lack of satiric songs. Thus writes the anonymous writer about the beautiful young people, who seek rich dowries, and in the end:
One fools a groom (Chasen)
One promises a good dowry
And one doesn't give him a groschen.
(The rhyme of Chasen -- Groschen gives clear witness about the Litvak ancestry of the writer who says s instead of sh.)
Wandering peddlers used to sing often in the streets their sad songs to elicit pity from the listeners. In order to grab the public by the heart, they used to attach their song to a local happening. The writer of these lines remembers, from his early youth, a blind peddler (real or imagined)? who had a song that he had composed about the terrible event that happened in Lida when murderers fell upon a Jewish family and killed the father and son. This song ends with the moral that we are all equal before the Angel of Death (and, therefore, naturally, we must all throw a coin into the outstretched hand ). A partial text of the song is below:
Have you, dear people, heard
What happened in Lida on Saturday night
The clock struck 11:30.
In the city everyone was already asleep
Only in their house alone
Was it still light.
The daughter was supposed to come home from the city.
Suddenly there was a knock at the door
The mother thought that the daughter had arrived
When she opened the door
The murderers approached her
And cut off an ear
And the father and his son
They did even worse to
They pushed them in their young years into the grave.
Dear Brothers, bear in mind
We are all equal.
The Angel of Death doesn't choose
Between rich or poor.
He runs quickly from the sky
He does what he is commanded.
We must ponder on what the local folklorists did not record. There must be many happenings of primitive local folklore, but only a few crumbs remain in our memories.**
They used to tell, that also in Lida there were once true Purim Players, dressed up in brass hats, with swords and the like, who made the people of the city and all the small towns nearby happy with their performances. In our time this no longer existed. There remained only a couple of Purim Players Epigonen , so called after the folkloric art. (Peshte, with his unclear speech, and Arke Mazik who spoke as if shooting out his words with a tune: uphill, downhill, and further completely up.)
On Purim, they used to go around the city wearing colorful cardboard high hats on their heads, repeating the short poem that sounded like Galagan, galagan and ended: Today is Purim, Tomorrow it's over, Give me a Kopek, And toss me out and they would get their Purim money.
In short, the old custom of the Purim-Play, which had within it a kernel of folkloric theater art, disappeared.
Masses of new young people came to Lida the students of the Lida Yeshiva, among whom were many lively and talented young people. When Purim came, they made themselves joyful and prepared a Purim play. And as on Purim one may, in fact, it is even a mitzvah, to enjoy, they brought the performance to the Rabbi himself, Rabbi Yitzchok Yakov Reines, in his apartment. The Rabbi, good-naturedly, watched the play, in which among the characters were a Rabbi and, the opposite, a Gentile. When the boys asked him how the play pleased him, he smiled and said: The Rabbi was so-so, but the Gentile was truly a Gentile.
The boys had given also a performance in a hall (Landes Hall) for the public. This was the play The Sale of Joseph by Elikum Tsunzer. The role of Joseph was played by a boy named Shkap, who was extremely talented.
The performance had, it seems made an impression on the Lida public, as years afterward, people used to continue singing the various melodies from the play: How bad is it here in the Grave, On the way to Shechem, etc. Most of all the children repeated the song of the Ishmaelites, which was the composition of the richly-creative director, who had written both words and music. And as Ishmaelites areTurks, this song should have been in Turkish. Here is the exact text, in its own language, as the writer of these lines remembers them:
Gan, gan, gan, gadn gidn, gidn gadn,
Gan, gan gan, gadn, gidn, gidn gadn gan,
Kurreitn, varreitn, zakem zikem lusatov
Korina smatrina, korina yan.
Gadn gidn gidn, gan, gan, gan,
Gadn gidn gidn. Gan. Gan. Gan.
Korina smatrina, korina yan.
Lida boys were disappointed when they met the young Turk from the Turkish Confectionery in the street. They wanted to show him their proficiency in the Turkish language by saying a true Turkish phrase from The Sale of Joseph: Kurreitn, varreitn, zakem zikem lusatov. They saw that the young Turk understood not even half a word, and they wondered how a Turk could not understand any Turkish.
Yiddish theater companies begin to seek out Lida and find welcoming audiences. The younger generation, and even householders, fill up Landes Hall or the Summer Theater in Pietrovsky Park where were presented Goldfadden's Caldonia, Shulamit, etc. This was an opportunity for the culture-thirsty Lida youth to discover their own local acting abilities.
It seems, that several years before the first World War, two parallel drama groups were organized, a Yiddish one and a Hebrew one. It's hard to say today which one came first.
From the Yiddish group we can remember the names of the first founders: Tsiderowitz, the temperamental director of the group; Hoichkevisik, thin, agile, with rich facial gestures, good diction and a rich, lingering voice; Katz, the second in the group, showed himself to be a talented dramatic force, who stood out in character roles; Krashinsky, (the son of the Shochet from Pinsk), the comic, tall and lively, an intelligent and talented artist. The role in which he was outstanding Shammai, the servant in Gordon's Yiddish King Lear. Mendele the wigmaker (His family name we don't remember), was the make-up man, played small roles and when needed played the cornet with the musicians of Noach Rentowitz. Of the women: Frume (Frumtshe) Yudelowitz, who played roles of various types of women; Hinde Shelovskyintelligent and a born talent, with a sharp sense of humor; Rivka Landeexcelled in roles of maidservants, countrywomen , etc.
The World War separated the members of the circle. Mendele, Frumtshe, Hinde and Krashunsky travelled to Russia. (I think Krashunsky made an artistic career there.) The circle fell apart for a while, but not for long. As soon as things normalized a little under the German occupation (1916-1917), the dramatic group renewed itself. New forces arrived. Yakov proved himself to be a worthy heir to Krashunsky in his roles. Chaim Kivelevich (shortly back from the front with a finger shot off and remaining in Lida freed from service) was capable in a variety of areas: with an inborn artistic talent, he was musical and played the violin, he was also a painter, a storyteller with a rich imagination, and also a gymnast.
Later other young forces joined: The younger Fromberg, Nachman Arluk. From the new women members the sister Bodin (later Bodovnitsh and Tshertak), the woman Rabinowitz and generally Leahke Ilitowitz, who had shown herself to be an important talent and who became the prima donna of the circle. In smaller roles there appeared on the scene Yablonsky, Gedalia Tshertak, Moshe Lovitt (when his time was enough by the Germans). Let's remember also the young prompter of the circle Chaikl Feimushevitz who from childhood participated in Hebrew activities.
During 1917-18 there was a director and manager in the circle from Vilna or maybe Bialystok, Perel Marian (the name by which he was known in Lida), a very able and temperamental artist who had a strong effect on raising the stature of the circle.
Pieces by Yakov Gordin (Jewish King Lear, God, Man and Devil), David Pinsky (Yenkl the Smith), Peretz Hirshbein (Nevila, The Empty Inn), Sholom Aleichem (several one-act plays), Leon Korvin (Yenkl Boile), B. Shveiche (?) (Theolinda), and others. Unfortunately, I don't remember all the performances.
The circle group remained until the end of the German occupation when it fell apart. Everyone separated: Yakov to Russia, Tsiderowitz to Warsaw, Katz married Perel Marian and went to America. Others were absorbed in worries about making a livelihood, about family, and simply getting old. Younger strengths were needed.
As previously noted, parallel with the Yiddish dramatic circle, there had been organized in Lida a Hebrew group, which called itself Friends of the Hebrew HaBima. From the Manager of the group, whom we remember: Israel Aaron Shelovsky, who took a lively interest in all Zionist and Hebrew cultural activities in Lida, and Chaikl Vishnievsky a new type of teacher. Chaikl was a born pedagogue, as well as a musician, who played the violin. He taught the children in Cheder to sing (very unusual for a teacher at that time). He also organized a mixed choir of boys and girls, from various Cheders and Shuls, that took part in the dramatic circle in the evenings. When he found a musical boy in Cheder he took him into the choir with the big ones quite a prize for a Cheder boy.
The evenings, when the choir would meet, would usually be composed of two parts: a musical vocalization by the choir, and a dramatic performance either of a children's instructive play or a national instructive play. Of the pieces which we remember from the evenings: The Bad Boy's Punishment (a warning for a bad boy), in which took part, among others, Chaim Krupsky (The father Good-Heart) Yakov Shiffman (The Bad Boy ) and Chaikele Feimushevitz (the poor boy, the fiddler); Hannah and her Seven Sons A Chanuka play (Mattithias Israel Aaron Shelovitzky, Antiochus I think, Minuchin, from the Yeshiva, Hannah a Vilna strength, brought especially, from Chanhas children Yakov Shiffman, Chaikele Feimushevitz, Breina Kivelevitz, a comedy The Glutton Tailor, etc.
During the German occupation (in WWI), The Hebrew circle was not torn apart. The Hebrew teacher Shiman took over the musical group and led it with great devotion, also during the first years of the Polish rule. He acquired fame as a professional conductor and was even invited with his choir and the dramatic children's ensemble to perform in Baranovich.
A war of words broke out around the performance of Yitzchak Katzenelson's The Sale of Joseph. It was thus: In the beginning, the performance was supposed to be in Hebrew. The income was designated for worthwhile causes. At that time of the German occupation there were many who were needy. So the philanthropic workers insisted that in order to increase the income, the performance should be given in Yiddish in order to make it more accessible to the public.
They found an excellent interpreter (Kalike, at one time a fervent Zionist, who later moved to the left). As stage manager a young talent was invited -- Yakov Dworetsky in the place of the very young stage manager in Hebrew, the already well-known Chaikl Feimushevitz. Each line was repeated in Yiddish. A protest rose from the Zionist Hebrew culture lovers in the city, who saw in this a break from the Hebrew culture tradition of the young people of Lida. This time the Hebrew lovers won. Thanks was given to the interpreter for his craft by an idealistic young Hebrew teacher.
The performance was given in Hebrew with the participation of both stage managers. It had a great success. In order to demonstrate the nationalistic Zionist spirit, to each number was added a living picture of a prisoner (meaning the people Israel) that yearns for a free home (i.e. The Land of Israel) and sings with a young old voice, the allegorical Song of a Captive by Y. L. Bruchewitz.
The Germans didn't understand the allegory and their military orchestra accompanied well the young soloist-prisoner. The décor of the jail cell in the production by Velvel Lande was masterful. In order to capture the feeling , the decorator added an effect: a small mouse with grey whiskers, that ran around the cell. The fully packed hall showed its appreciation with much applause.
Living Pictures was one of the numbers during the evenings of the dramatic circle. They were pictures with a nationalistic subject. The figures had to sit still in the pose as if in a picture, accompanied by a musical passage from behind the curtains. Before the days of the electric light, the scene was lit by Bengalish Fire.
The pictureOn the Rivers of Babel was one of the pictures that the Hebrew circle had presented on the stage, accompanied from behind the curtain by sounds of the Hebrew song.
The Jewish circle once copied the well-known picture from Hershenberg: Diaspora with an accompaniment from the well-known Diaspora Song (with wanderlust in the Hand) specially arranged for a choir of four by David Ginzburg, a talented musician violinist who had then played in Vienna Café by Jablonsky. After the sorrowful Diaspora March, when the stiffened picture marched across the stage, the same choir, in a symbolic manner, sang a fiery HaTikvah, arranged by the same Ginsburg (himself an ardent Zionist).
After the Yiddish dramatic circle, there was established in Lida in about 1917 under the direction of Yakov Dworetsky, a workers' dramatic group to satisfy the longings of the Workman's Circle for their own cultural corner. The director, Yakov Dworetsky distinguished himself with a great dramatic talent, by playing the starring roles. Latuta, was a comic. The prima donna was called Chava Leah Good Shabbas, in memory of the song she sang in her role.
The circle was liquidated afterwards, as the top actors left: Latuta was killed in the pogrom which the Polish soldiers made in Lida in 1919 while capturing the city, and Yakov Dworetsky, shortly afterwards, left for America.
In the years 1924-1925, there was a second Yiddish dramatic workers' circle, about which our old Lida friends, Esther Kapushtshevsky Sigbaum now from Dafna (Upper Galilee) and Tziporah Levin-Bleichberd, now from Haifa, tell us:
In 1924, there was formed in Lida by the Professional Union of the Needle Workers, a dramatic circle under the direction of H. Fromberg. The profits from the performances went to various business directions.
Afterwards, when Fromberg, for certain reasons left the circle, his place was taken by the artist Komai, who then served in the Polish Army in one of the regiments that was stationed in the Lida barracks. Every evening he would come especially in the city to the rehearsals. The directors were still Moshe Levin(the photograph) and Liava Poliatchek.
Lida Jews from all classes used to seek out en masse the performances which took place every couple of months. From the repertory it is worthwhile to mention: Yenkl the Smith, Uriel Accosta, Mashkele Pig, The Week, Ronny the Postmistress, Mirele Efros, The Seder Night, The Scandal.
These are the names of the members, who participated in the performances: Men Yakov Brinker, Moshe Golomb, Hirshele Darshan, Leizer Levin, Noach Sosnovsky, Liava Poliatschek, Feike the tailor (i don't remember his family name), Abraham Renkatshinsky. Women Zelda the seamstress (the family name forgotten), Peshe Lidsky, Rivka Levin, Chaya Mansky, Freidke Slonimitshek, Rivka Pupko, Esther Kopushtshevsky.
The circle had also formed in the professional unions various small cultural circles: For Yiddish literature, art and theater, the history of Yiddish theater, etc.
After the director Komai left Lida, in 1927, (after the military rule ended), the circle slowly fell apart. It later came to life once again with new strengths.
Page 178 has a picture of the circle Friends of the Hebrew Habimah in Lida with Chaikel Vishnevsky' children's choir.
Below the picture are two pieces of music. The first is from Mayer Lider's compositions, and the second is The Blind Beggar's Song.
by Yehudit Ganuzowitz
Translated by Roslyn Sherman Greenberg
The society Toz, which was founded not long before World War I in Peterburg, started their activities in Lida at the end of the 20's. Their goal was to raise the hygienic conditions of the Jewish population and they branched out to do preventive work, although not always enough, in view of the need. Their director was especially interested in the welfare of the children. Poor mothers were given all the necessities for the birth of their babies. There were distributions of Fishtran which was a resource against tuberculosis and other childhood diseases.
In the summer months, the Toz set up summer colonies for the children. First the colonies were in Roshlaki and later in Mailaikietshizne, and were called half-colonies because the children would come in the morning and return home in the evening. In the last year before the war the children would gather each morning near the office of Toz, which was on Suvalki Street, in the house of Tziderowitz, and there a bus would come to take them to the colony. In the evening they would return by foot with their teachers.
In Novoyelenie, not far from Lida, Toz established a colony where children would stay overnight. From poor cities and shtetls children would come there to rest and have a good time. In a large, two-story wooden building, which stood in a pine forest, separated from the surroundings, in summertime happy children's voices would resound in play, laughter and song. There they would bathe in the nearby stream and take part in numerous discussions and lectures with their teachers and educators.
The committee of Toz in Lida consisted of : Dr. Zartzin, female Dr. Ogushewitz, the teacher Peresetzki and others. The Secretaries were Chana Chasman and Sonia Verskaya.
by H. Jijemsky
Translated by Jack Shmukler
Lida was among the first cities to found a division of the organization TOZ for the purpose of safeguarding the state of health of the Jewish population.
The founders were (fem.) Dr. Ogushewitch, Dr. Zartzin, and Mr. Peresetzki Later on Yablonski, Rudi and others were elected onto the committee.
The organization commenced operations by opening a consultancy service for breast-fed children, in one of the houses of the Jewish hospital. Dr. Ogushewitch was the consultant for Drop of milk and Miz Sonya Verskaye was the first social (sister) worker as well as the secretary. Later on as the scope of work increased, my sister Gite Khasman (later Gite Nyeprovska) was employed as social worker, and after that my sister Miriam Khasman and myself till my departure for Eretz Israel in the year 1938.
The main purpose of the Drop of milk was to instruct young mothers how to care for and bring up the new born children. At first only the mothers from the poorer section of the population would attend They would receive garments as well as medication and other products for the breast-fed children. But within a short space of time the activities (services) of TOZ expanded rapidly and the mothers and children from all sections of the population frequented the Drop of milk TOZ also branched out in the field of prophylactic work.
The activities of TOZ were growing apace, and in time they hired large premises At first from Mr. Levinson, then from Mr. Tziderowitch and lastly from Mr. Frenkel in Polkovske street. A Dental practice for the treatment of school children was opened where they were treated free of charge or only a token payment.
|Summer camp for Jewish children from Lida organized by TOZ in Rashlaki|
A milk kitchen was opened where they prepared bottles of food to feed the breast fed children and every working mother, or those who couldn't afford it, would receive each morning, prepared bottles for the entire day.
TOZ had ties with all the school administrators wherever Jewish children were taught. Doctors from Toz examined the children and the weaker ones were sent to vacation camps. They also distributed cod liver oil and other medicinal preparations. They also had a food program where the school children, would receive on a daily basis, a bulke with milk or cocoa. During holiday months Toz organized a summer camp. At first they used to hire rooms, afterwards Toz constructed their own buildings. The poor children would take part in social activities till 4 5 in the afternoon. They would enjoy the outdoors and fresh air. They were supervised by qualified teachers and educators.
In Novoyelna TOZ built a double storey building in the middle of a pine forest. At this camp the children would socialize and enjoy themselves for a whole month far from city life. It was one of the most beautiful places where the poor children could enjoy themselves, thanks to the work of TOZ.
TOZ became immensely popular and the majority of the population from all walks of life mothers, breast fed children, pregnant women, school children, rich or poor all enjoyed the benefits of the various branches and services offered.
It was a place where all sections of the population could meet and mingle TOZ truly became a major social factor.
by A. Lando
Translated by Jack Shmukler
Who among those born in Lida at the end of the last century or the beginning of the present does not remember the fear that descended, when in the middle of the night the loud sound of the firemens' brass horn would penetrate the tightly closed shutters, the half dressed men and women, terrified, milling around in the night darkened street, looking up at the red tinged sky, trying to guess where the fire was. Here and there a fireman would appear, fireman's hat in one hand, buttoning up his uniform coat with the other as he hurried on his way. After awhile one would hear the rattle of steel rimmed wheels on stone cobbles The wooden water barrels on two wheeled carts were on the way. Where is the fire? The firemen race off in the direction of the red painted sky. (There were no telephones in those days)
If rumour had it that it was a brick house then we would be somewhat reassured. The situation was much worse when fire broke out in a neighbourhood with wooden buildings and in particular structures with thatch roofs (there were still such houses in Lida at the time). It was horrifying to see such a fire. If a thatch roof caught fire, it was pointless to pour water; the roof should be pulled down with steel hatchets, as soon as possible and the burning straw and embers put out on the ground More than once it happened that a ball of burning straw would break away from one roof, and carried by the wind = like a bird of fire land on another roof made of shingles or straw. In this way the fire would spread from house to house and in a few short hours the whole street was up in flames. (Smoke) Some of the old-timers (may they live to be a hundred and twenty) still remember the big fire of (1891) when almost the entire city was destroyed. That was not the first fire in Lida, there were a number of previous fires.
In the past Lida endured many wars and each time the fires left the city in ruins. In olden days: - when Duke Vitavt captured the castle (it was unlikely that Jews lived there at that time): later on when the Tartars attacked the region in 1506; after that when a large army of the Russian Tzar Aleksey Mikhaylovitch captured the castle and city in 1659
On a summer evening in the year of 1679 a horrendous fire broke out (cause unknown) and in a matter of 1 hour 38 houses belonging to Jews and Christians were burned down. Many of the people (townsfolk) both Jews and Non Jews who didn't manage to get out of the burning houses, perished in the flames and many others received severe burn injuries.
Another huge fire occurred in Lida in 1843 . It started in the public baths and rapidly spread to the surrounding areas. The entire synagogue courtyard, a part of the market place and the whole of Vilna street burned down.
The most horrific fire within living memory that occurred in Lida broke out at the end of the first day of Sukot in 1891 . Nearly the whole town went up in smoke. About a thousand dwellings. Almost all of them Jewish (only 17 belonged to Christians): 400 residential houses, 600 Cold Buildings, barns, shops. The Big Fire would be long remembered by the Jews of Lida and was used as a basis for dating events so many years before or so many years after the big fire.
In that same fire not counting the old wooden built shul nearly all the kloyzes (houses of prayer) with the exception of the tailor's burnt down. The city Ratush which was situated in the market place a colonnaded building that was built in the 18th century and served in later years as a guard house as well as a timber structure built in the gothic style which was used as a firemen stable were also destroyed in the fire.
Lida's volunteer firemen group
So go and sign up
For the fire brigade
And put on a red uniform.
(a Jewish cabaret song )
|Fireman's orchestra||Fireman's course in 1926|
|Firemen in Lida|
|Cast metal emblem of the 40th anniversary of the firemen in Lida 1832-1932|
by Abraham Gelman
Translated by Phillip Frey
Until quite a bit of time after the first world war the Lida Firemen's-Command was composed of 4 or 5 pairs of horses, wagons with water barrels and several hand-powered extinguishers. We must remember that at that time there were still enough wooden houses in Lida, easily combustible. Roofs, partly tin or of thatch, or many covered with wooden shingles, and fires were no rarity. I'll mention several instances of the worst fires.
The fire on Zavalne street began at the ritual-slaughterer's house, which spread and more than 30 Jewish houses were burnt down, nearly all uninsured, except for the slaughter's house, mostly the houses of poor Jews.
A severe fire that claimed two human fatalities, took place in the oil-factory. The fireman-Mair Gorelik was severely burned in its course.
I recall also the fire in the old Nirvana cinema (In Dluskin's courtyard) which threatened a severe threat to the wooden structures of Lida Street.
Several tens of meters for there were great stores of wooden materials from Gedalioh Feinstein's carpentry.
An indirect victim of the improper construction of the wagons was Elie (Eltschik) Lande (son of Benjamin Lande of the Grand-Hotel): wishing to jump up on a wagon, which was moving, in order to ride along to the fire, as was the custom, he slipped and was killed.
In short, the time came to modernize the equipment. Max Poliatshek, one of the most able members, dedicated himself to the matter with much energy, partially neglecting his private business, and finally, after several years of exertion, the Lida Fire Team was outfitted with fine motorized equipment, 4 trucks, with water tanks, a motor-pump, etc.
Formerly there were assigned five paid firemen, who lived on the site, and order that they could right out on the first call. The volunteers naturally came along later, each from the place where he found himself at that moment. The five appointees learned to drive and that understandably increased the possibility of getting to the place on time, before the fire was able to spread.
All of this cost a lot of effort and money, and since the town administration was always had a deficit, they had to look for outside support. The firemen used to put on shows, balls, dance evenings and the like. Here must be mentioned the firemen's' orchestra, which helped a good deal (The conductor-Shloime Zalmen Miednitski). There was also a special monthly payment for the firemen's-command
In the years 1935-1936 a womens' section was added to the firemen's association, whose function was to provide emergency medical help in a palce or in the event someone had been injured or burned at a fire. This was a group of 15 young women, under the direction of Ms Svaviatitski (from May 3rd Street (Drei Mai Gas)),who had completed a special course.
The workouts by the members used to take place weekly and were obligatory. The members of the orchestra (which also had to participate in the regular firemen's practice.) had twice-weekly exercises.
The firemen's-association had its own club, which carried on cultural activities.
A bit of disharmony in the firemen's cooperative activity between Jewish and non-Jewish firemen in Lida was Caused by the Grablis brothers and another pair of Polish members, anti-Semitically disposed, who wish to get control of the association. The Jews wouldn't allow it, and after many court sessions, often stormy, a decision was reached which divided the association into two commands: Group 1 was responsible for the city area up to the railroad tracks and Group 2, under the direction of Mikolai Grablis on the Slobodke area, on the other said of the train tracks. This was a small and less well-schooled group. In that area there were nearly no Jews. In cases of a severe fire on Slobodke, the first, city group, was not just one time called out by the Burgermeister,Zadurski,or by the police-chief.
September First, 1939
In the first days of the Polish-German war, the members of the firemen's association found themselves day and night in the locales of H. Miklashevitsh, Zamkova street, and the wee called out every short time, after the bombardment by the murderous German airforce on the Lida population, which suffered dead, wounded and many fires-up till the 17th of September, when the Polish might and the Polish army abandoned Lida. More than 30 hours the town remained without any sort of control.
By the initiative of the Jewish populace, the town Fire-Command stood on watch not to allow any attacks, robberies or thefts. On the train station stood full truckload of various merchandise, which had recently arrived for Lida merchants, and part were stolen by the Polish population., who lived nearby, on the farm and on Slobodke. The Lida firemen were armed with cold weapons and often chased the robbers and theives. What can several tens of people do against thousands! Therefore we had an interest mainly, insofar as possible, to prevent pogroms on Jews and murders, until a measure of order was restored. Rumors were circulating, that the Russians were going to assume power.
When the Russian army took the town, a new firemen's-command was created, one that was paid, on the Soviet pattern, under the direction of a Politruk (A Russian Jew). Many of the former Lida firemen joined the news command. Many of them were, with the outbreak of the German-Soviet war, evacuated, with their trucks, to Russia.
by T. Tsigelnitzky
[our volunteer translator wishes to remain anonymous]
The Butcher's Synagogue was one of the most beautiful synagogues or Beit Medrashim on synagogue hill. Most significant were the artistic drawings created by the renowned Lida artist, Tager, who created them according to the directives of the active leaders of the Butchers' Synagogue. The Shamesh of the synagogue was R'Zundel a slender Jew with a small thinly whiskered black beard. Always on the run never had any time. He did everything even though he was the shamesh of the Butcher's synagogue. It was quite a job to make a minyan during the week. He would be quite a sight He would stand at the entrance with his Tallit and Tefillin and would stop every passerby and tell them they need only one more person for a minyan. No one could say no to him tell him they have no time before they knew it they were already inside in the Beit Medrash. Zundler had a two part task to stand in the door blocking the exit after all the work to get the person in all the while still getting someone to come in 8 more Jews. And again he repeats the same thing. Only one more Jew is missing and the proof is that I (Zundler) am already in Tallit and Tefillin; all ready to pray. Because of all that effort on Shabbath and Holidays his task was not so arduous. Butchers on their own came to pray. Dressed in holiday garb you felt you were among your own and had a common language. During the layen period, the men would speak in Polish telling each other tales of the week past , who bought a bargain at market (a calf at a good price) who got a good bid for a cow. The chatter went on until the Gabbai interfered by asking for quiet in order to pray. The congregants go in to pray.
by Yehudit Ganuzovitsch, of blessed memory
Translated by Phillip Frey
Already at age six Jewish children, both boys and girls were sent to kheder (elementary school, both literally and actually a room). It was custom with us , especially regarding boys, that the child was wrapped in his father's prayer shawl and brought to the melamed (teacher). One of those present used to throw a handful of coins over the child's head, all were wished mazl tov and the child was told that an angel was dropping them from heaven, and if he would study well they would always throw gold coins and that he would be successful in everything.
My first melamed was Flashke. I've forgotten his real name, but I remember his nickname well.
That nickname for a melamed had its flavor and reason, such that on a frosty day a Christian brought him a wagon-load of wood and forgot a flask on his porch. The melamed chased after him in his torn shoes running over the snow-covered street, without a coat, and holding the peasants flask he was yelling: Flashko, flashko!
He was without doubt a modest Jew, still the nickname Flashke remained. Flashkes kheder was on Politsayske street, his dwelling consisting of a room and a tiny kitchen. It was very cold in the room. His wife used to sit in a corner at a sewing machine, sewing boys' pants warming herself at the firepot, which was next to the sewing machine. We were about fifteen children in the kheder and we studied from morning until night. When it got dark the melamed used to light a small kerosene lamp, which was inclined to extinguish itself. There the melamed had great patience to light it again, when it was very dark outside (There was no electric lighting yet then in the city). The children used to melt away toward home. Before leaving kheder it was a custom, that the melamed together with the children would recite the Shma-prayer in a chorus.
I studied in this kheder for an entire term, as known ,a term was six months. After this I was transferred to a second kheder, where older children studied. This was Pantolke the melamed's kheder on Lida street. Why the kheder-boys called him Pantolke I do not know. I remember, that he beat the boys severely without a trace of mercy. I this kheder a small and weak little boy studied. His father was Zelig Pupko, the directory of the Wzaminova Kredita. One time when the melamed was angry he beat the boy with a leather strap, which he always had at the ready. This hurt me a great deal. At the first opportunity I took the strap away and threw it into Tubelevitsch the Khazernik's pigsty, which was on Lida lane. I went back home and told my mother, that I would no longer go to this kheder, because the melamed beats the children and I'm very afraid of him. She understood and promised to send me to another kheder.
Several days later the melamed's wife came and asked my mother to again send me to her husband's kheder. Appaarently he was not wealthy and sorely needed the tuition money, which my father paid with generosity. It didn't help however and I never returned to him.
Then I began to study at Oizer the melamed's (Wolinski). His kheder was considered one of the better ones in the city and he got paid more tuition than the others. The room, where twenty students used to sit, was relatively large and near his house was a courtyard where one could safely play. Reb Oizer the melamed's sons were active members in the Bund(a socialist organization) and quite frequently police came and searched the house. Then the frightened children would run home seeking a hiding place from the foolish gendarmes.
Later I studied in Reb Dovid Yehuda Tatarski's. His kheder was more advanced and there a teacher taught the children Russian. There they also studied Gemore (pat of Talmud), from which we girls were exempted.
Tuvyoh the Melamed ..Tuvyoh Tsigelnitski
Tuvyoh the melamed lived with his family on Targove-street in a little wooden house. His kheder was on Vilna Street, in a room at the blacksmith's, Avrohom Yezyerski's.
Boys and girls studied in his kheder. He was a thin Jew or middle height, with a little pointy blond beard. Always serious, never laughed, always spoke with anger, as if he were mad at the entire world. His students always trembled at his glance. He would call the students inside to learn, each one separately, possibly because the room in which they studied was small. In teaching the children he was severe. If a student didn't read something as expected, then his right hand was already prepared to give a strong slap, as hard as he could get way with. He was not stingy with beating children. He would always use his left hand for beatings. Sitting at a lesson, each pupil was impatient that he might be freed, and leave the fear-chamber of Tuvyoh the melamed, to run about freely and play in the yard, till the melamed's call to a new fear-lesson.
It was, when his wife could be seen from afar, when she would be bringing him to eat: chalah soaked in milk in a tall narrow-necked earthenware jug and a short wooden spoon. With this spoon it was not possible to reach the food at the bottom of the jug, so he had no alternative but to sip from the jug. He would eat with great appetite and he made a great deal of noise, which would evoke loud laughing from us children. Having ended his eating, he being newly-nourished he would smack the children because of their having mocked him.
Khevrah Tellim existed for many years in Lida. In the same building as the Great Synagogue there were two small study-houses, where they prayed and recited Psalms all year long. There were Jews who went about waking people to go to recite Psalms. As was customary they started reciting Psalms at midnight, several times a week and also Friday night. The head officials of the Khevrah Tehillim were Yoshke the Coppersmith (Kaganovitsch), lived on Sadmaye, Itshe-Ber the carpenter from Zavalne Street, Berl the Lakhat(meaning unknown-might be a tinker) from the market, Alter Feinschreiber the flour merchant, Reb Eliyohu the Tshshler(=carpenter) (Brem) and others. In the middle of the night one can already hear Alter Feinschneider waking the Jewish public to arise to go to recite Psalms, with his resounding melody slicing through the darkness of the night:
Awake to the service of the creatorHe presses his ear to the window where he had knocked to hear if they are arising, he hums to himself. Jews are sleeping sweetly after a day's hard work. Then Alter begins to knock a bit harder, singing the same melody and one can already hear someone getting up. Alter by now is screaming: Get up more quickly, why are you snoozing, Yidelakh, as if you were dead. And one can hear Yoshe the cold answering from inside with a great sigh, with his deep bass voice: Soon, soo .
What we are, we are,
But we are Jews,
What we do, we do
As long as we recite Psalms.
Wake up, wake up, Yidelakh (little Jews, said endearingly)
So Alter goes from house to house waking Jews. Through the stillness of the night his melody calling people to recite Psalms sounds without interruption. Only the police-watch are seen on the street, guarding order in the city. In a short while one can already see the shadows of the Jews carrying prayer shawls, heading themselves in the direction of the study houses of the Khevrah Tehillim. When they finish reciting Psalms it is beginning to dawn. It becomes light and they begin to pray Shakhris (Morning prayer=shakharit in Sephardic Hebrew). After Shakhris Jews hurry off to their daily occupations, with trust, pride and belief in a better tomorrow.
by Tuvia Tzigelnitsky
Translated by Janie Respitz
Tuvia the teacher lived with his family on Torgove Street in a small wooden house. His Heder (traditional religious school) was on Vilna Street in a room at Avrom Yezhersky's the blacksmith.
Boys and girls learned at his Heder. He was a thin man of average height, with a blond pointed beard. Always serious, pensive, never laughing. Always spoke with harshness as if he was angry at the whole world. His pupils always feared his glance. He would call the
children in to learn separately probably because the room where they studied was so small. When teaching the children, he was very strict. If a child did not read something properly, his right hand was ready to give a hard slap wherever he could. He was not stingy with his beatings. He would always beat them with his left hand. When learning, each child sat impatiently to be released as soon as possible and leave the terrifying room of Tuvia the teacher to be free to play and jump around the yard until the teacher called them for the next fearful lesson.
The best thing was when they saw his wife from a distance bringing him some food: Challah soaked in milk in a tall clay jug with a narrow neck and a wooden spoon. He could not get the food out of the jug with that spoon and had no choice but to sip from the jug. He ate with a large appetite and made noises while eating which made us all laugh. When he finished eating he would angrily hit the children for making fun of him.
by A. L.
Translated by Phillip Frey
The world had decided on the following names: Minsk-After-words, Vilna-nashers(sweet-tooths=snackers), and Lida-drunkards. If you want there is also a bit of allusion there: In Gematria (Numerical value of Hebrew letters) Lida in Gematria=Lot (Who while drunk impregnated his daughters with Moab and Ammon-ultimately Jewish arch-enemies).
One need not think, that the streets of Lida were filled with drunkards, it never got that badstill Jewish drinkersbut taking a bit of whiskey, not to mention in companywith the greatest of pleasure. And indeed why not. The Lida Jew of yesteryear was a carefree creature, always interested in a good joke, a prank, a bit of silliness, and indeed to have a drop; that's the life no? Oh, whatever, God bless I'll drink to it.
And a bit of whiskey a Lider (native of Lida) could indeed take not just for Shabbes or Yomtev (Sabbath or holiday) but even in the middle of a Wednesday. And not just at home before lunch, but even in the barroom, returning from praying with the talit-sack under one's arm..
Going into the barroom belonged in general, one may say, to the good tone, exactly like sitting now in a Caviar-nie (gourmet snack shop), excuse the profane mention, only the form has changed: the substance remains the same.
Into the bar, after a spot of whiskey with a snack, came not just uncouth youths, but also substantial householder, cantors, synagogue officials and religious judges.
Various anecdotes are told on the theme: Once we went to see the Rabbi Reb Mordechai Meltser, of sainted memory, asking if he had seen one of the religious judges. The clever Rabbi responded making a face filled with wonder; How could he be here? Am I running a tavern?
When a new Rabbi was expected in the shetl, a pair of prominent householders rode out to meet him some tens of viorsts out of the town. Naturally they took along a small bottle of 90 proof-every so many viorsts along the way there was an inn, so they used to stop and take a thimbleful. Afterward they ride another five or six viorsts and there is no inn. One of the householders tells the driver to stop the coach and pulls out the bottle. The second is a bit amazed, what sort of station is this? It's just an empty field?Nu, says the first, if a poor nobleman lives here, who can't afford to build an inn, must we suffer?
Two Lida Jews are riding in a covered wagon to a market. For provisions they had just a small loaf of white bread, and as customary, a little bottle. When they started to get hungry, they poured whisky into a small bowl, so they could dip the bread into it. Soon however they decided-why not have a bit of whiskey before eating? What are theygentiles, God forbid? So they pour a bit back into the bottle and pour themselves a little glass
This is how Lida Jews lived once upon a time in their carefree happy spirit earning themselves the above-mentioned epithet: Lida Drunkards.
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