Translated by Tina Lunson
Donated by John S. Jaffer The beys-medresh [house of study and prayer], which had for generations been the center of general community matters, lost its political character during the era of independent Lithuania. The entire social life of the Jewish youth was moved over to the party locales.
The youth was party-conscious. Several Zionist parties existed in Gorzd, from the religious mizrakhi 1 to the Zionist-socialist hashomer hatsair 2 and hehaluts 3 . The sports organization makabi was held in a special place of respect. Its members were recruited from all levels of the party (in Lithuania the makabi was a civil Zionist sports organizaton). Each of the parties had its own space and its propaganda apparatus. Only a small group of tiferes bokhurim 4 , who studied tanakh [Torah, Prophets and Writings] and the commentaries every day, retained the beys-medresh for their headquarters. Thus the tiferes bokhurim, like the khevre kadishe [burial society], took part in all the beys-medresh celebrations, especially simkhes teyre [Rejoicing in the Law, a holiday after the Jewish new year] and shabes breyshes [the Sabbath on which the Torah reading is begun again, with the reading of Genesis I, In the Beginning or B'reyshes ]
Despite the secularism of the Zionist youth, they still used to go to the beys-medresh on shabes and the holidays. Some went in honor of their fathers or in order not to disrespect their parents, and some went because it was their habit. During the Torah reading they would discuss politics and have disputes with their political opponents. It was especially hot politically during the holidays when some of the Gorzd youth who studied at yeshives and gimnazies in the big cities came home.
The Gorzd khalutsim [Zionist pioneers], like the khalutsim from around Gorzd, in the region of Memel [Klaipeda], many of whom were intellectuals and some of whom had degrees, contributed very much to the zest of Jewish social life in our town.
As was usual in Lithuanian cities and towns, a Jewish folks-bank was founded in Gorzd. In fact all Jewish merchant and shop-keeping life was dependent on the credit from the folks-bank. The gemiles khesed [literally loving kindness] which was established with money from Gorzd landslayt [native-born townspeople who had moved away] in New York and Chicago, gave interest-free and long-term loans solely for constructive goals. The bread for the poor and care for the sick societies gave out monthly support to the poor of the town. The committee for housing the poor were concerned with sick people, poor or rich, especially at night, and also loaned out implements--rubber hot-water bottles, enemas, thermometers, etc.
The talmud teyre in Gorzd received state status in the last years, and it became obligatory to study there. It was eligible for charity and donations. It received some support from the government (for Lithuanian studies). The Yiddish folks-shul , which was founded in the 1920s, was a state school.
The two libraries, the Yiddish and the Hebrew, occupied a special place. The younger people read Hebrew more. Both libraries were rich in books. The Gorzd native Shmuel Zaks, owner of the Mishi factory in Ramat-Gan, supported both libraries with money and books. From time to time the libraries organized lectures and social judgements on various current topics.
In later times, when the Lithuanian regime became ever more antisemitic, a large part of the Jewish youth immigrated to erets yisroel, America and South Africa.
Gorzd was one of the first Lithuanian towns to be tragically annihilated. The Nazi forces from Memel tore murderously into Gorzd on 22 June 1941. All the Jewish men were quickly shot within the first few days. The women were dragged to nearby villages and were killed a few months later. Very few Gorzd Jews were saved.
Honor the memory of our martyrs and pure ones!
[Photograph, p. 1519]
Management of the Gorzd Jewish folks-bank.
From the right, sitting: Elieyzer Akerman, Dovid Volfovits, Volf Shtokh, Yeshaye Zusmanovits, Zundl Falk, Fayve Noyak. From the right, standing: Preyde Fisher, Dovid Kodlovski, Meri Gudman, Zlate Hilkovits.
[The date is 22 March 1936. The sign on the wall says Jewish folks-bank in Lithuanian and in Yiddish. Folk here is equivalent to populist.]
|1||"Mirkaz rukhani", or spiritual center, the name of a religious Zionist party, founded 1901. Return|
|2||"The Young Guard", Zionist youth organization, founded 1913. Return|
|3||"The Pioneer", a federation of pioneer groups that fostered training for and immigration to erets yisroel. Return|
|4||"Crown of Youth", a religious study group for older boys and young men. Return|
See also:Gorzd book; A memorial to the Jewish community of Gorzd
"Gorzd" - Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities in Lithuania
"The Destruction of Gorzd" - Volume I: Lite (Lithuania)
"Gorzd" - Jewish Cities, Towns and Villages in Lithuania until 1918
Gargzdai - ShtetLinks page
By Dr. Menahem G. Glenn
Translated by Mindle Crystel Gross Meretch was mentioned as a Jewish community for the first time in historical documents in 1539 in relation to a dispute about money between Koniuk, a Jew, and a Christian. The Jew was liable for the debt. Even the exact date of the dispute is mentioned: July 8, 1539. The second time the Jews of Meretch are mentioned is in 1551 when they were, together with fourteen other towns, freed from the special tax that was a burden for all inhabitants in addition to the Jews and village residents. This liberation from the tax was an act of the Polish Sejm [Parliament] during its session in Vilna. These historical documents and pieces of information indicate that the Jews had a visible community in Meretch in the beginning of the 16th century.
It is worth noting that the number of Jews in the shtetl who paid taxes in 1765 was 444. In 1847 the Jewish population in Meretch was 1,565. The census of 1897 gave the total population of the shtetl as 2,580, of which 1,900 were Jews.
Meretch occupied an important position among the other towns with a high number of maskilim [enlightened adherents of the haskalah movement]. Educated young men arrived in Meretch as the sons-in-law of wealthy citizens, who helped the number of maskilim and educated men to grow in the shtetl. The custom of bringing sons-in-law continued until the beginning of the 20th century.
One of the famous scholars who occupied the rabbi's chair in Meretch was Rabbi Yehuda haLevi Lipshitz. He was born in Vilkomir on the 25th of Tevet 5589 . He was the rabbi for almost twenty years in Podzelve, a provincial shtetl of Vilkomir [district], and in 1864 he became the rabbi of Meretch, where he remained until his death in 1905. During all his years as the community's rabbi he studied, investigated and published polemic books of cultural history. He had a running dispute with a lot of respectable maskilim. He attacked, especially sharply, the author of the famous work dor dor v dorshiu. Rabbi Yehuda Lipshitz's work dor yoshrim [Generation of the Upright] was published after his death by his nephew Note Lipshitz from Kovno (1907), with the aim of continuing the great work of Yitzhak Hirsch Weiss. R' Note Lipshitz was one of the sons of the militant orthodox R' Jacob HaLevi Lipshitz (R' Yankele), who was the secretary and right-hand man of R' Yitzhak Elkhanan. R' Note Lipshitz published his father's books: zikhron yaakov [In Memory of Jacob], History of the Jews in Russia and Poland, and a biography of R' Yitzhak Elkhanan (Kovno 5689  ).
Rabbi Yehuda was not satisfied by standing with a magid [preacher] against the heretics, as the other rabbis from all sides had done. He went much further: he beat the maskilim in their own domain, demonstrating their errors with great learning and erudition. He did this in his book derekh emunah [Way of the Righteous] (1895) and continued in his book mentioned above, dor yoshrim.
Another famous Jew from Meretch of the same century was David Gordon, born in 1826. When he was ten years old, he went to Vilna and studied there in the yeshiva. At eighteen he settled in Serei where he continued his self-education, earning a living from giving lessons. It is easy to imagine how isolated the great maskil Gordon felt in that small place Serei. In 1850 he left for England. On the way there in Lik, Prussia, he made the acquaintance of Eliezer Lipman Silverman who, at the time, planned to publish a Hebrew journal. Lipshitz lived through several difficult years in Liverpool, teaching and studying until he had to leave due to poor health. He did not return to Russia but went to Prussia, where Silverman had invited him to be the assistant editor of the journal hamagid [the Preacher]. However his contribution was not limited only to hamagid. He also helped Silverman to publish other old and valuable Hebrew works. Afterwards, when Silverman died in 1882, Gordon became the sole editor of hamagid.
Also the great gaon [sage] R' David Tebli Efrasi was a Meretcher. He was from the family of the Vilna Gaon, a direct descendant of R' Moshe, son of David Kremer. As a small child he already exhibited original thinking in homiletics, and during his short life was a writer and inquirer into the Talmud; he lived only for 35 years. He knew the Babylonian Talmud and the Jerusalem Talmud very well and was the author of numerous works.
Although this article does not allow space to tell about the life and contributions of the entire line of famous people in the fields of literature, community work and especially Zionism who came from Meretch, how could I talk about American Zionism and not mention our Eliahu David Stone? Or about Hebrew scholarship and not mention Dr. Max Margolis zl? Or about literature and leave out Dr. Henry T. Shnitkind? Or American rabbis and overlook Rabbi Zelman Jakob Friedman z'l? Or jurists and not say a word about Shimon H. Rifkind? Or distinguished scholarly commentators and not mention Reb Aaron Hershel Fischel z'l? Or could one mention landsmenshaften [Jews from the same locale] and not mention the large Meretch communities in Boston and New York?
Meretch, like all the Jewish shtetlakh, was destroyed. The Jews who left Meretch and are now in America, South Africa and recently in Palestine, continue the beautiful traditions and customs, the love of books and learning, hospitality and graciousness, for which Meretch was known.
The following is from a letter that the author received from Yakov Miller (now in Palestine), informing me about the destruction of Meretch:
The town burned. The Jews were murdered without pity. A few individuals remain alive. Among them: Israel Kubitzke's family (although his son Moshe, his son's wife, and the children stayed in Meretch and it appears they were murdered); Shmuel Asne's family; one of the butcher's daughtersMalka; a daughter of the Slonimski familyBelke and one of Slonimski's sonsJosef. Twenty people from Meretch were saved from the Kovno ghetto. They ran away from the ghetto and were with the partisans until the Russians arrived and liberated them. The pogrom in Meretch took place on September 8, 1941. Everyone was buried in a mass grave. The Lithuanians played the main role in the mass murder.
by Enoch Stein [Henekh Shteyn]
Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund
Rogova is an old settlement. The old towered shul with its artistically carved aron kodesh [ark containing the Torah] and the old cemetery in which rest the bones of Ponevezh residents and with headstones almost level with the ground can bear witness to this fact.
From the slim facts that are known from various documents and also from Henryk Sienkiewicz's historical novel With Fire and Sword, in which Rogova is mentioned, it can be concluded that this shtetl counts its importance as a Jewish settlement for considerable hundreds of years.
The shtetl quickly blossomed and grew. Two synagogues were added, a beis midrash [house of study] and kloiz [house of study or small synagogue, often for a particular occupation or economic group].
Rogova always had the best rabbis because most of the middle class, who were themselves shopkeepers and merchants, were capable students.
The revolutionary atmosphere was not very strong in Rogova. There is only the story of a daring revolutionary in 1905 who gave a fiery speech in the synagogue with a revolver in his hand. When the police arrested him and placed him in jail, he cried out passionately to his sobbing mother; Mama! Has no one heard the news? Nikolai will not be czar!
The other less daring ones were several young people who were infected by the Bund. Their revolutionary spirit was shown only on the eve of Passover with the matzoh contracts. Their activity consisted of moving the clocks and in shouting to the rollers of the matzoh: Lay down the rolling pins! Demand a shorter workday! However, their talk reached deaf ears because the Rogova proletariat barely listened to them.
However, after World War Iat the beginning of the 1920sa leftist movement emerged in the shtetla Zionist-socialist youth group with its own meeting hall, a library, a dramatic section, frequent cultural evenings, splendid social evenings, lectures and the like. The even more leftist or populist circles organized the Lovers of Knowledge society. Both of these groups often presented their own dramatic performances, and both possessed their own Jewish library.
However, there were other young people who were not suited to business and who could not find any employment. There were no heavy industries in Rogova, nor any light ones. The only heavy industries in the shtetl were the smithies of the blacksmiths Yerakhmiel, Refael and Alter. And the light industry was Mekhla the feather plucker. The three blacksmiths employed only one worker each and the feather plucker had her own daughter as her help. Alas, who would deliver something to be plucked other than the few well-off men in the shtetl? When a pillow was needed for a bride, everyone else would do the plucking themselves and would invite acquaintances, friends and neighbors. Young and old could be seen sitting around bare tables on winter nights in almost every house, talking and gossiping and plucking goose feathers.
One cannot imagine the joy of reading the newspapers. Was there anything better with which to spend the time? The printed Yiddish word was read and discussed with great eagerness and caused excitement.
A newspaper was subscribed to by three hands. In truth, many more families would read the newspaper.
The first hand, whose name was on the newspaper, would receive it by mail and had to pay the largest portion. The second hand paid a little less and the third still less.
The third hand, who would receive the newspaper in the morning, in truth did not receive a newspaper. As he unwrapped it, very often a bundle of names, and an entire map of drawings, patterns, calculations, digits and the past-time game of shure di bure [Ukrainian game like a crossword] was revealed to him. The third newspaper partner could also have an idea of what his partners had had on the menu for the last 24 hours.
The lives of the shtetl girls were worse and without content. A Jewish girl would work respectably around the house, milking the cow, the goat, driving them to the field, and even leading a cow to a rendezvous when nature required it and the cow had the urge to mate! There was no great future for the girls in the small Lithuanian shtetl. Indeed, the only goal for the shtetl maidens was to make a match. The ambition of the parents was to find a young man from another shtetl through an arranged match. And Rogova would often become rich with new sons-in-law oyf kest [support given by her father to a daughter's husband so that he could study Torah] or without support, as someone's luck would have it.
I remember very well one wedding resulting from one of these arranged marriages, the marriage of Reynele, the only daughter of Leyzer-Yosa, the presser.
The wedding was celebrated with great pomp on a Tuesday night in the shul courtyard with burning candles in the synagogue windows, with music by the klezmorim [musicians] from Kavarsk and even fireworks.
Right after the khupa [ceremony], Khaim-Liber's Khiena led the procession dancing and, when they arrived at the bride's house, Reynele's mother, Rokhe the husterke [one who coughs], was already standing on the porch with a large braided, twisted loaf of challah in her hand and, bouncing, she turned to all sides singing: Thank you, Gottenyu [diminutive or intimate form of God's name], thank you that what I wanted, I made happen, I made happen, that I should live to see it The large crowd pushed its way into the house, both invited and not invited. Young girls lifted themselves on tiptoes and communicated with each other with great joy: the groom is a true beauty, a monarch, what did one such as him see in her? Here, Reynele, one must have luck for everything
It was suffocating to be in the house; people stood head to head. People danced, turned; all the while klezmorim played beautiful melodies, sometimes for an in-law on the bride's side, sometimes for the groom's side.
When the Golden Week passed and the euphoria of the wedding disappeared, the groom sat around with whomever had been palmed off on him. And on one clear day he made a run for it and finished, the magic ring was gone. There were rumors a time later that Leyzer-Yosa's son-in-law, the beauty, the monarch was wandering around from shtetl to shtetl in Lithuania collecting money and passing for a widower and one who had lost his property in a fire.
The flirt looked like a deck of cards because of its size. Each edition had lines of questions and answers were printed on the flirtation cards. This is what happened when a shy pair who were in love wanted to declare their love through the flirtation:
He gave her a flirtation card mentioning a certain number of a line, so that when she read it, she blushed and ashamedly lowered her eyes. This card read: I love you! Your eyes are coral, your lipscherries, your teethalabaster mixed with pearls. Then she looked for a suitable response in the flirtation and gave it to him: Do you mean this in earnest? Are you sincere? Then he again sent her a card with a certain number for a line that read: Yes! And thus an entire evening was shot through with these flirtation cards; the young people often became closer to one another. Later they met for a rendezvous, swore eternal love and thus were the conditions for matches made through the mediation of paper matchmakers, the flirtation cards.
Another way the shy young people conducted a romance was with secret letters or flying mail at the various get-togethers and evenings. Secret letters consisted of an open envelope, usually made of pink paper, and a note on which was written whatever anyone wanted to write. The envelope was sealed with the name in question written on it, and thrown into a box or hat. Then someone would read out the names of the addressees and distribute the letters. Thus would flare up a question and answer through the secret letters.
Flying mail would be used on the part of jokers to arrange a trick or various nonsense. So, for example, a young man or a group of young men would send a secret letter to a young girl under someone else's name, asking that she come outside to the courtyard where he would be waiting for her by the well because he had a very important message for her. Such a letter, like the entire correspondence of this sort, was always full of florid language. For example: Come out to me, Shulamit, you beauty, you daughter of Zion, you young woman of Rogova, to thy sincere beloved, your Shlomo, who waits for you outside with open arms and fluttering heart.
When the young girl would go out to the well, the actual deceivers and pranksters would sit in a corner and burst with laughter.
Flying mail would be arranged very often, particularly after a performance or dance, and was very popular with the young people. Many matches were also made in this way.
They were not satisfied only with trading the horses themselves, but goods from a store were also a commodity. There was one of them, even 50 to 60 years back, who preached communism, namely, he could not bear the idea that a boss had several horses and another one had nothing, or that one storekeeper had too many goods in his shop and the other, less. In the long, dark winter nights, he would equalize things, so that everyone would be satisfied .
Their position did not last long. The Czarist regime became involved with them Those caught were put in chains, led in this way through the shtetl on the way to Siberia; a number escaped overseas and a number repented with prayers, charity and fasts, and lived their last years as pious and honest penitents.
Alter was not destined to be world renowned, as the Kelmer or Dubner preachers were, perhaps because his mental condition was not sound. It was said that he was a cabalist and that this had affected him mentally. He would often break out in spasms of crying, stretch out on the floor of the synagogue and drill, right, left, right, left and so on. Or turn his hat on a finger and shout: Do you see that the hat is turning? This is how Alter's head spins.
However, as he would go onto the bima [pulpit] on shabbos after mincha [afternoon service] and he would begin the moralizing sermons with his own special nigun [melody] and his illustrations, the congregation would sit riveted to the benches and reading desk, and the wives would sob like small children and his blazing eyes sparkled then like a prophet and his face beamed. And as soon as he left the bima, the divine presence would play a trick on him and he would again start playing his wild pranks. Until the end of World War I, he was in Rogova, to which just a small number of Jews returned. The majority were still deep in Russia. The synagogues were then led by simple, ordinary Jews. However, this did not please Alter and he left the shtetl. Taking aim with his stick, as if he would shoot, he cried out, Bang, bang! Rogova should be taken out beyond Rogova and burned!
And he disappeared.
In the morning a piece of crumpled paper written by Alter was found on the bima. This was supposed to be a lampoon of the current customs that prevailed and were unworthy [Translator's note: Alter was expressing his displeasure with the leadership of the Jewish community.]. It read:
Oy woe, the years,Later, it was learned that Alter was in the shtetl Aniksht [Anyksciai], where he lived for several years, also in the synagogue, and died. We never learned from where he came and to whom he belonged, and the story of Alter the magid remains a secret.
What has become of Rogova!
That when one turns his head
Shmuel the Top (teper [potter]) is seen at the head
And as we look at the table (east)
The 'rabbi' is sitting there, Mr. Pina Itse (teacher)
And the shoykhet [ritual slaughterer] is Israel Itse (butcher)
And after all of the woes
Feiva, Sara's husband, is the gabay [sexton] (a weaver)
A second sensation, from which Rogova could not recover for a long time, was nothing but a Shabbatai Tzvi [17th century false Messiah] hoax.
An elegantly dressed young man strode into the shtetl on a beautiful summer day and declared that he was none other than Moshiakh ben Dovid [the Messiah descended from David] and he wanted to give a sermon before the congregation in the synagogue and to prepare them to emigrate to Eretz-Yisroel and to bring the redemption As evidence of this, he showed the ring on his finger on which was engraved, Moshiakh ben Dovid.
Understand, the shtetl Jews who were scholars and staid, respectable people refused to believe him, but if a young man wanted to give a sermon, let it be so, why not?
A large crowd, young and old, was already assembled in the synagogue at night and Moshiakh began to give a true sermonthat a large sum of money should be raised for him to contribute for the transfer of the Rogova religious community, If not, they could, God forbid, remain off the list and miss the redemption.
And in order to confirm his words, he began to guess in what trade someone was. He pushed back one young man who stood near him and cried out: Give way, cobbler's thread puller! And to everyone's astonishment, the young man was really an apprentice with a shoemaker. He called to a second one: Come here, you tailor! He had guessed again. He was really a tailor. There was only one he did not guess; he called him a bricklayer and he was actually a potter However, a number believed his every word and agreed that the necessary sum should be collected.
However, the unmoved people did not want to believe in any way and did not contribute any money. Thus, the false Moshiakh went around the shtetl for a few weeks and waited for the cash It just happened that during one week, two women died. Then Meir bar Levit, a fine person of standing, raised a great cry to the other people of standing in the synagogue: Why are you detaining him? There is a plague here in the shtetl, God should protect us! That clearly alarmed the people; the necessary amount was collected and he was escorted out of the shtetl. And the plague was stopped
It was later learned that the Shabbatai Tzvinik had served in the military and, as a prank, friends had put the ring with the Moshiakh ben Dovid inscription under his pillow. Then he decided that he was the redeemer.
He was a wagon driver. Once, en route, a gentile asked that he buy a pair of tefilin from him that he had found. Moshe Shimon looked them over on all sides, made a sour facial expression and, returning the tefilin to the gentile, said with a tone of disappointment: No! I cannot buy the tefilin from you. You do not see that they are last year's. The gentile, understand, had no other choice and returned them without cost
Moshe Shimon would always tell the following joke:
When I die, the Angel of Death will come to ask me: What's your name? I will not say my correct name, Moshe, but Khaim. He will then say: How is that possible, you are not named Khaim. Your name is really Moshe. I will answer, Fool, if you know, why do you ask ?
Moshe Shimon also loved to tell the following joke. It is hard to say if it originated with him, because the joke was heard in other places.
Before I die I will let my beard be shaved and when the Angel of Death takes me to task and rants: How come, how is it right for a Jew to come to the world-to-come a gluekh [Jew who shaves his beard in violation of Jewish law]? I will answer him: I was born without a beard and I want to die without a beard. However, he will immediately ask me again: Nu, you were born without teeth, too, and you came here with them? I will immediately answer him: Then, why are you yelling about the beard, yell about the teeth!
When two Jewish women from Rogova were once late for the local train in Rogova, they ran after it, waving their hands and yelling hysterically: Podozhdi [Wait], train, there are still passengers, Hillel's wife Jenta and Asher's wife Leah [Translator's note: this last sentence is a combination of Russian and Yiddish.]
Reb Zalman Fram was a Jew and scholar and a rich man, but also a wit. He once argued with his cow, who in no way wanted to taste from the tubs of potato peels mixed with water: Stop, you cow; I have one son-in-law who is a rabbi, a second who is a member of the enlightenment, a third who is a Doctor of Philosophy. I, myself, am not a nobody. Nu, I think that the slops are flavored enough with milk, eh?? And you do not want to drink?
The same Reb Zalman Fram would joke, When all the Jews take a walk among the linden trees beyond the shtetl on shabbos after cholent, the shtetl becomes a true dacha [Russian country house].
Vulf the feldsher [barber-surgeon, i.e. community medical practitioner], who was in South Africa, and his wife in Rogova, where she very much liked a frequent drink, once lamented to one of his countrymen:
Do you know what, what 'mine' laments there, that she does not receive any money from me. I think you know very well that ikh shik ir un ikh shik ir (shikur un shikur) [Translator's note: I send her and send her: a play on the Yiddish words, shik ir (send her) and shikur (drunk)] and she always writes that she does not receive it.
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