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[Page 348]

Inside Nyevsich

Aharon Yosinovsky

My first exposure to Nyesvich took the autumn of 1909 when I was called for military service in the 40th artillery brigade, which was stationed there. Since I knew Russian well, the commander of the artillery, Pestov Polkovnick, appointed me as a writer in his office. (At that time it was customary to appoint a Jew as a writer in army units).

A

My first meeting with Nyesvich Jews was in my official capacity.  Polkovnick used to frequently send me to sign Goldin's accounts. The contractor Chalfin and his son-in-law, Zuber, used to come to the office also. They would get meat, grain, animal feed and other products for the brigade.

At that time I also became friendly with Mr. Eisenstadt and his wife, as well with the elderly Kaplan, who had a writing instruments business. I would but writing materials from him for the office.

Until today, I can still see the image of my wife's uncle, R. Bentshe Goldin. He was a devoted community leader in town. He was always concerned about the Nyesvich Jews. I remember the Passover seders he used to arrange for the Jewish soldiers in his brother Feive Goldin's woodshed. Once he even invited Supreme Commander General Romanovsky from Minsk to the seder.  At that seder a Jewish soldier greeted everyone in Russian on behalf of the Jewish soldiers. The general gave him a kiss on the forehead. The next day the Russian newspapers gave extended coverage to the participation of General Romanovsky at the Passover seder, and called him “the Jewish general.”

Using my position as a writer in the offices, I would do favors for the Jewish soldiers. I would assume responsibility for releasing them for the Jewish holidays, and Jewish soldiers would thank me for the release papers which enabled them to enjoy the holidays with the householders of Nyesvich.

B

In 1917, during the Bolshevik Revolution, I was chosen for revolutionary

 

nes348.jpg
Jewish soldiers from the 27th cavalry regiment invited for Passover in 1925 with Tiferet Bachurim, headed by the rabbi of the town, Rabbi Yerachmiel Burgman and Community Head, R. Yoel Rozovsky
First row (right to left): Zalman Shifres, Chaim Berzin, Leibe Farfel, Yehoshua Kravetz, Mordecai Mendelvich, Yoel Rozovsky, Rabbi Yerachmiel Burgman, Lieutenant Yisrael Horngrick, ┼..Zaretsky, Yosef Lipovsky, Yehoshua Beshinkevitz, Yehuda Gavrielov, Michael Kuritsky
Second row, first on right: Yaakov Blumess, far end┼┼..
Third row, first on right: Yisrael Beshinkevitz, far end: Feivel Zeitz
(Photo: Moshe Fayaness)


[Page 352]

During the First World War and After

by Yehuda Leker

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

Tiferet Bukhurim

At the end of 1914 the Tiferet Bukhurim [Beautiful Young Men] Society was founded in Nesvizh. The founders were the brothers Yehoshua and Yisroel–Perec Bashinkevitz and the two active members, Tzvi Nota Kunovsky and Yakov Androsier. Their program – a purely religious one. They studied every day, between minkhah and maariv [afternoon and evening prayers]. Every day another member led the prayers. On Shabbos [Sabbath] we prayed with our own minyon [10 men needed for prayer group] at the house of Perec Bashinkevitz. Other members I remember were: Benyamin Jevelevsky, Ahron Heler and Hertsl Blumes (died in Argentina).

It was the First World War. In time, several comrades were mobilized into the army. We Jews were in a troubled mood because of the defeat of the Russian military at the front. We were accused of espionage on behalf of the Germans. Our society had great success among the Jewish young men during such difficult times. The founder of Tiferet Bukurim, Yehoshua Bashinkevitz, considered himself to be a Baal Teshuva [a repentant Jews who becomes observant] and grew a beard.

Such a case once happy happened to us: In 1916, during the full fervor of the war, when all of our members already were at the front, a letter arrived from Yisroel Bashinkevitz in which he described the horrors of the war. His brother, Yehuda, convinced us to go to the cemetery and to spend the entire night reciting Psalms. For we young people, this seemed as if we had been invited to go on a picnic. On the summer night we went to the cemetery. Suddenly the police arrived and we were taken to the Khad Gadya [Passover song, One Kid; used as a slang word for jail]. We were freed thanks to the intervention of Ahron Goldin.

 

New Winds…

Our group began to weaken at that time, in 1917, with the outbreak of the [Russian] Revolution. Tzwi Nota Kunovsky, our most active member, had begun to revolt again religion. In general, new, freer winds began to blow. We enrolled in various organizations, went to meetings and read books. Then, everyone held discussions and we hoped that very different, better times would arrive.

I remember one incident: I saw two Jews at the market having a robust discussion. One of them was Velvl Goch, an owner of a soda–water factory; the other – Alter Vontz (that is what he was called, because he had large Vontzes [a mustache]. He was a shoemaker). Alter considered himself a communist and Velvl was an opponent [of communism]. Avraham'ke, the kalkher [one who applies lime to walls], a giant who worked at various jobs – applied lime to houses, dug graves, cleaned toilets – passed in the middle of their discussion. Velvl said to his opponent, Alter Vontz – “Here, see, with Avraham'ke you can create communism. You will sew a pair of boots for him; he will dig a grave for you.”

 

The Tragedy of the Firemen's Orchestra

Tzwi Nota Kunovsky was a capable, well–read young man. In addition, he played the clarinet in the Nesvizh firemen's crew. There were many Jewish players there. They had a great misfortune in 1919. A border regiment of the Red Army arrived then in Nesvizh. They did not have an orchestra; they joined with our musicians. In 1920, this orchestra became prisoners of the Poles. The Poles asked all of the Jews to step out of the ranks and they shot them on the spot. Two Nesvizher Jews saved themselves from slaughter: Ayzyk Solntza, who looked like a Christian, had not stepped forward from the ranks and gave a Polish name. The other one was Avraham Jevelevsky, a son of Mordekhai the painter. He fell wounded. When they came to bury the dead, they noticed that he was breathing. They took him to the hospital where they saved him. I met him at home later where he spoke about it all.

The name of those who fell are: Tzwi Nota Kunovsky, the brothers Leibl and Shmerl Efrayimsky, Avraham Livshitz (son of Mote Livshitz, who sold wood), Yakov Taybetchkes from Vol, who sold fruit.

May my lines serve as an eternal monument for them because they fell as Jewish martyrs – and not as members of the Red Army.


[Page 353]

In Those Days

by Shlomo Damesek

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

Three chapters from the book, In Yene Teg [In Those Days] by Shlomo Damesek (notes and photographs of my home city, Nesvizh),
published by students and friends. New York 5711, 1950, 160 pages.

 

The Kalte [Cold] Synagogue

The illustrious memory of my dear student, the holy Shaul Fridstein, may God avenge his blood!

The Kalte Synagogue building was higher than all of the houses around it and higher than all of the synagogues, houses of prayer and small synagogues in the synagogue courtyard.

It was a large shared building with lower room and rooms above.

The Kalte Synagogue was different from the other synagogues in the city, both in its external appearance and in its most inner form. The outside walls were painted a golden yellow color.

The Kalte Synagogue differed from the other synagogues with certain special customs that were carried on there.

The Kalte Synagogue was a brick building of close to three stories high. The outside walls were plastered and painted in a golden yellow color. The eastern and southern walls were supported on the outside by massively strong brick columns, wider on the bottom near the ground and narrower at the top near the cornices.

The columns gave the Kalte Synagogue the appearance of a fortress.

Between the columns were the windows, which occupied more than half of the walls. Each window consisted of an entire net of thin tin frames in which were placed small, long panes of glass. The window panes were of red, brown, blue and green color and when the beams of sunlight touched them, their reflection looked like thin grains of sand sifted through a many–colored screen – shimmering in the void of the synagogue and grabbed and delighted the eye with a rainbow glow.

Such colored windowpanes, only half transparent, also were placed in the double doors of the large, long anteroom of the Kalte Synagogue.

Birds built their nests in the windows of the upper rooms and bird–song and twittering always was heard in the synagogue during prayer.

On the top of the large, sloping roof, in the very center, another roof was placed, like a four–cornered yarmulka [skull cap worn by pious Jewish men] with pointed edges at its sides.

So, in my eyes, the highest roof looked like a kind of Mount Hor from the Khumish [Torah] and that is what I usually called it in my imagination.

*

From the antechamber, two steps led into the synagogue to fulfill the chapter of Psalms: “From the depths I call to you, God)[a]

On the eastern wall, on both sides of the Torah ark, were two giant trees painted by an artistic hand; on the branches were molded sculptured bunches of fruit, painted a gold color.

A stork was painted on the tip of each tree, standing on one foot in its nest. The wings appeared natural, alive.

When I looked at the trees, I often thought: what moved the unknown artist to paint such sorts of illustration on the wall of the Kalte Synagogue? Did he have in mind the chapter, “…the stork with its home among cypresses…?” Or perhaps that artist used as a model for his work the old giant trees of Halbe, Prince Radziwill's farm, where the Niesvizh Jews would stroll on Shabbos [Sabbath]? At its pinnacle nested storks whose arrival and departure in our region informed us of the time of the year, when it got warm and when it got cold.

A gigantic fish, curled up like a bagel, who held the end of its tail in its mouth, was painted in the center of the vaulted ceiling of the Kalte Synagogue.

When I was a child it was said that this was the Leviathan who held his tail between his teeth and if, God forbid, he let the tail go for even a second, the entire world would be flooded immediately, the entire world – the houses in the city and the marketplace, with the stores, the synagogue courtyard and no matter the time it would cause the ruin of all of the synagogues as well as the Kalte Synagogue, where I now stand.

There were seven steps leading up the to Torah ark.

The thin, delicate sound of small bells was heard when the curtain was drawn back and the ark was opened. The small bells were found in the beaks of the small, golden birds that were attached by the edges of their thin copper stems over the doors of the Torah ark. Their sweet sound recalled the verse, “And its sound will be heard when He enters the holy precincts.” (And let His voice be heard when he enters a sacred place.)

The high bimah [elevated platform used for Torah readings] of the Kalte Synagogue had a “yarmulke” [skull–cap] above it – a half–rounded canopy, woven like a net of thin, copper knitting threaded through wooden globes that looked like pomegranates.

Over the canopy, in the very center, a large black stork with spread wings stood on a scaffold – a splendid sculptural creation.

A giant cake hung out from the stork's beak. This cake served as an eruv khatzerot [“merger of domains” – an enclosed area enabling Jews to carry objects outside their homes on the Sabbath] for the

[Page 354]

Jews in the shtetl. Itshe, the son of Dovid–Velvl the baker, specialized in baking this huge cake. It was mixed and baked using a few dozen eggs.

Erev Pesakh [on the eve of Passover] they would climb up on a tall, double ladder and take the cake out of the stork's beak.

Moshe, the shul–klaper [synagogue striker – man who knocked on the shutters of houses to wake the men for morning prayers], the shamas [sexton] of the Kalte Synagogue would dust and wash the cake, cut it in pieces and divide them among his household and good friends and celebrate the last khomets [foods not kosher for Passover] banquet with a little whiskey.

Right after Passover, with great solemnity, they hung another extraordinary, large cake freshly baked in Itshe, Dovid–Velvl's son's bakery oven, from the beak of the stork.

In the southwest corner of the synagogue a teeny room was formed, painted black. A flame in a small lamp twinkled day and night. This was the Ner–Tamid [Eternal Light] that was never extinguished.

There were two large women's synagogues located on the south side, one on top of the other and the third women's synagogue was located over half of the large antechamber on the west side.

In the southern corner of the antechamber was the large community room that served the entire week as a house of study, where they prayed and studied.

Stormy meetings often took place in the community room. Important matters for the welfare of the residents of the shtetl were decided there.

The recluses' room was located over the community room, where older worshippers would pray every morning at the rising of the sun.

*

The Kalte Synagogue was considered the city synagogue.

The rabbi of the city prayed there on the Shabbosim [Sabbaths] and holidays from Passover to Rosh Hashanah (the rabbi prayed in the old house of prayer, where the majority of scholars in the shtetl prayed, during the summer days and the entire winter).

When a khazan [cantor] came to Nesvizh with his choirboys, he prayed on Shabbos or a weekday maariv [evening prayers] in the Kalte Synagogue.

When a well–known preacher came to Nesvizh he also spoke on the pulpit of the Kalte Synagogue, giving his flaming sermons and creating a following for the national idea and for the Zionist movement.

When a “solemn day” occurred, such as a so–called “official Russian holiday,” as for example, a “coronation” or the tsar's birthday, the congregation of Jews would assemble in the Kalte Synagogue. Commanders of the 40th artillery brigade, who were located in the large Nesvizh barracks, also came there. A solemn religious service took place in the synagogue. The city khazan sang the prayer for the tsar and the students of the “naroda” [nation – non–Jews] and their teachers sang hymns and Russian national songs.

When the Minsk governor came to Nesvizh, the Jews in the shtetl gave him a solemn welcome in the Kalte Synagogue. Then the district chief of police and supervisor, the city mayor and all of the scribes from the Duma came here. In honor of the distinguished guests, the rabbi would come from Slutsk and give a very patriotic sermon.

From time to time, sad events also took place in the space of the Kalte Synagogue.

When the rabbi of the city or one of the most respected members of the middle class died, they would be eulogized after the period of mourning in the Kalte Synagogue.

When there was a year of hunger because there was not enough rain and the wheat in the fields burned from drought and the flour merchants, the peremolnikes [wheat and flour merchants], would take flour from the shtetl and thus force the price to rise – or, when they would bring slaughtered meat from outside the city (meat from other shtetlekh) and harm the income from the community tax on kosher meat – it occurred in such cases that the Beis–Din [the rabbinical court], the rabbi and the judges in agreement with the customs of the shtetl would decide to announce an excommunication – “this excommunication” was carried out, all the painful emotions of fear in the Kalte Synagogue. The black candles were lit there; verse after verse of the customary chapters of Psalms, which pointed out God's anger and the curse of a criminal, were recited there; the rabbi gave a strong moral sermon there, which whipped and burned the sinners; there the shofar [ram's horn] was blown and there the moaning voices and bitter laments were heard in the women's section.

During the Three Weeks, from the 17th of Tammuz to Tisha B'Av, the old men in the shtetl would come together in the Kalte Synagogue at lunch time to observe the custom of arising at midnight for study and prayer in memory of the destruction of the Temple and to ask God for the building of Eretz–Yisroel.

*

The shamas of the Kalte Synagogue was considered the city shamas. His duty was to go to invite the Jews in the shtetl to all of the simkhahs [celebrations], such as bris–mila [ritual circumcisions], tnoim [engagement contracts] and weddings.

In one of the synagogue rooms lay two brown leather pillows that served as a pad for the kise shol Eliyahu haNovi [seat on which the sandek – man who holds the baby boy being circumcised – sits during a bris]. When there was a bris in the shtetl, Moshe the shul–klaper [synagogue striker – man who knocked on the shutters of houses to wake the men for morning prayers] carried the pillow with a particular solemnity to the house of the father celebrating his son's bris.

The khuppah [wedding canopy] also was kept in the same small room. Almost all weddings took place at the entrance to the Kalte Synagogue. The bride and groom were accompanied to the Kalte Synagogue from all corners of the shtetl, accompanied by the playing of Mates' klezmer orchestra.

We children of the shtetl would be drawn here on Friday nights to hear wedding melodies. We rejoiced with the in–laws and with the bride and groom on their happy day.

Near the entrance of the synagogue, on the spot where the khuppah usually was erected, lay a large pointed stone. There was a legend in the shtetl that Shlomo Mimon [Salomon Maimon] had been whipped on this stone when he became a heretic.

[Page 355]

Whenever my eyes feel on the stone, I would remember this legend and other legends and stories that were told in Nesvizh about this strange, wonderful philosopher. They occupied a large part of my fantasy and thought during my childhood years and later.

And certainly in the Kalte Synagogue, where we children with our fathers heard such sweet prayers from the khazanim [cantors] and the singing of the choirboys, where all of the celebrations took place and at whose entrance where the khuppahs were erected, we thoroughly enjoyed the marching and playing of the klezmer – the dead surely came night after night to pray in the Kalte Synagogue. And when we children, coming from kheder [religious primary school], happened to pass by the dark, large building of the synagogue, we were overcome with trembling. Our hair stood up in fear. We hurried as we went by the building so that, God forbid, nothing bad would happen. And when we passed in safety, we felt relieved that we had survived the danger that has lain in wait for us.

However Erev–Shabbos [eve of Sabbath], when Moshe the shamas had stretched out the khuppah near the Kalte Synagogue, we children were the first at the simkhah [celebration]. We each wanted to hold the poles of the khuppah. We all felt in a holiday spirit and happy. Dancing with joy, we took up the “march of accompanying [the bride and groom]” of Mates the klezmer's orchestra that already could be heard from the distance.

Every care left us. Our fear of the night before passing the dark building of the Kalte Synagogue was forgotten and torn from our hearts.

We children truly did not have as joyful a place in the city as here at the entrance to the large Kalte Synagogue.

 

The Bundists Meet in the Old House of Prayer

It was before the first Russian revolution. I still did not have a clear idea of the events that happened during those stormy days. But my alert ears already grasped much of what was happening in the world. HaTzefira [The Siren] came to our house and we always talked about the daily news. In the old house of prayer, where I would spend my free hours, I listened attentively to the conversations about the “important matters and politics.” I knew that a storm was being carried across Russia.

I knew many of the revolutionaries [in Nesvizh] very well. In the summertime, on the Shabbosim, the young men and girls dressed in red and white “shirts” would stroll on the sidewalk past our house. I knew that these were the socialist members of the Bund [secular socialist party] and of Poalei–Zion [Marxist–Zionists] who went to the “Halber” forest to “skodkes” [meetings].

I felt that many Jews in our city sympathized with the main purpose of the socialists. Thus the Jews looked forward to the day of the downfall of the tsar, the enemy of the Jews who issued new edicts on them every day! However, it hurt the Jews to see how the majority of the socialists were throwing away their Yidishkeit [Jewish way of life] and weakening all holiness. The doubt bore in their hearts: can the Jewish people help but be like them?!

There also were Jews who were afraid that it would pour out on Jewish heads if the revolutionaries were not to succeed in fulfilling their aspirations.

On a certain Shabbos, something like this happened in Nesvizh that unsettled and distressed the hearts of the pious Jews. This was talked about for such a long time with deep resentment that this sad event is etched in my memory.

That Shabbos the members of the Bund “captured” the old house of prayer for a large mass meeting.

The old house of prayer was of a kind only in our city. This was a very old building with a vaulted ceiling and with unbelievably thick walls, painted and plastered both inside and outside down to the ground. It was assumed by the Jews of Nesvizh that the building was so old that the stone foundation and several rows of brick of the house of prayer had sunken into the earth.

In a corner of the northern wall and from the southern one that bordered on the eastern wall were rounded out deep places to hold religious books. Shelves were built into the depth on which there were three rows, one over the other, on which stood Gemaras [books of commentaries] of the great Vilna Talmud.

The vaulted ceiling was supported on four–sided brick columns (they were called slupes [poles]) whose thickness also was great. At the sides of the two western columns stood cabinets packed with thousands of religious books.

The old house of prayer was the only house of prayer in Nesvizh that did not have an ezres–noshim (women's section of a synagogue).

From the old generations on, the old house of prayer was the place where the scholars of the city sat and studied with great desire.

And this house of prayer was chosen by the comrades of the Bund for their gathering place.

On Shabbos afternoon the young men and girls from the Bund, dressed in red rubashkas [shirts], began to go one by one into the old house of prayer and sat on the benches around the bimah [altar]. The fighters, the Nesvizh otriad [brigade of fighters] with shpeyers (revolvers) in their pockets, stood along the length of the anteroom ready for whatever might happen.

The older Jews who sat and studied wondered what the comrades were doing here in the old house of prayer. Perhaps the shkotsim [literal meaning is gentile boys; here it is used to mean insolent people] were becoming bal–tshuves [returning to a religious way of life]? And what are the maidens doing here in the house of prayer?!

The comrades who waited for the propagandists meanwhile took cigarettes from their pockets and began to smoke.

Seeing this, the old Jews, those studying, trembled with fear. Agitated, they began to shout

[Page 356]

and curse the converts [said accusingly] who were desecrating the Shabbos in such a holy place.

However, the comrades of the Bund laughed at them and told the older Jews to keep silent.

Several of the older men then left the house of prayer so as not to watch the desecration of something holy. However, the majority of the older Jews remained in their places in the house of prayer as if they were a guard making sure that a holy fortress would not fall, God forbid, entirely into the hand of their own “demolishers and destroyers” (destroyers and those who lay waste).

Those studying looked into their books, but their eyes, covered in tears, wandered expressionless over the lines. Their hearts were distressed and their lips murmured: “Vey tsu di oygn vos zeen azoyns!”… [Our poor eyes that have to see this.!]

One of the old men who remained sitting at his place at the table near the tiled oven was the old Reb Kalman who had been involved in charity matters his entire life, in feeding the poor who were mostly dejected artisans.

One of the comrades, a really shameless person, carried a lighted cigarette to Reb Kalman, ostensibly wanting to treat him to it… The old Reb Kalman scolded him – and the comrade moved away.

The propagandists entered the house of prayer accompanied by several “fighters.”

The Bundist speakers mainly spoke and agitated about nanatkah – about overthrowing Tsar Nikolai, creating a constitution, bringing freedom and equality to Russia. However, they also railed against God and those who believed in Moshiekh [the redeemer]. They particularly raged against those who hoped for a new deliverance for Jews through the political miracles presented by the Zionists, those “bourgeoisie” who relied on the promise of the emperors and their anti–Semitic ministers.

Among the agitators was one who split hairs as in a sermon that in truth the old house of prayer belonged to them, to the comrades of the Bund and they were the rightful inheritors of the house of prayer.

The speaker reddened, saying, “This building was built by Jewish workers, true proletarians: masons, carpenters, cabinetmakers built this building with their sweat and heavy effort. The prominent Jews came, the bookworms, the shopkeepers, petit bourgeoisie, who drew their strength from workers and peasants and grabbed the house for themselves!”

The house of prayer was kidnapped by the comrades of the Bund that Shabbos at three o'clock.

When the gathering ended, the agitators left first, accompanied by the fighters. The other comrades dispersed one by one, in the same manner as they had come together earlier.

After their departure, a thick smoke and the bad smell of tobacco still filled the air of the house of prayer. Cigarette butts and bits of burned matches lay around on the floor of the house of prayer – witnesses to the desecration of Shabbos and the profaning of a holy place.

The sun began to set. The Jews who remained in the old house of prayer sat around Reb Kalman's table. Most of them – Reb Kalman's students – were artisans, children from generations of artisans who had no idea that they were “proletarians” and the law of Israel was their only constitution.

With hurting hearts they began to recite verse after verse:

“Praiseworthy are those…” [Psalm 119]

 

“Halbe”[b]

Shabbos at night, during the summer, right after the second meal, began the stroll to the “Halbe” through our street, Michalishok – to be blessed by the natural beauty of Prince Radziwill's farm that was located two verst [.66 mile or 1.1 kilometers] from Nesvizh.

The majority of strollers were young men and girls, apprentices, seamstresses, clerks, for whom a distance of several verst had no meaning. They placed firm steps on the wooden sidewalk, which echoed loudly in the air.

Wives and husbands also went strolling, the majority of them artisans from Michalishok and from the surrounding alleys. Children who still held onto their mother's dress; boys and girls went along with them. The infants were carried in the arms of the mothers or fathers.

The “half” grown boys, groups of pranksters, who filled the air of the street with a cheerful commotion and disorderly clamor, went on the Shabbos stroll.

Young men dressed in black and red shirts, belted with knitted belts with tassels also went strolling.

The children of our street knew that these young men were members of the Bund and Poalei–Zion [Workers of Zion – Marxist–Zionist movement] and whispered that they were going to the Halbe forest for skodkes [meetings]. Not all of the children knew exactly what a skodke was. But they understood that this was something about which one had to keep a secret and not say anything about it out loud.

For several hours, all kinds of strollers went through our Michalishok Street, which led to the end of the city, to the gardens and fields and to the white, sandy road that led to “Halbe.”

The strollers filled the Shabbos air with a particular joy.

*

“Halbe” occupied a particular place during my childhood. I spent the nicest hours of my life there. I strolled there very often by myself. Sometimes together with my father and with my sister and brothers. And many times with my friends. “Halbe” drew me to it on the Shabbosim and holidays and on every day that I was free from kheder.

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In the winter months when the thick snow cover enveloped the fields and forests, I thought about the snow–covered, abandoned “Halbe” with longing.

Going alone to “Halbe” created both a joy and a kind of shudder for me.

Going outside the city did not take me, the Michalishok boy, long. As soon as I passed the large garden at the end of our street I already was outside the city. Several minutes later I already was far from the cemetery. The windmill with the long spread wings grew before my eyes and I already was walking on the sandy road that led to the “Halbe.”

The wheat fields spread long and wide on both sides of the road. Corn, wheat, oats and barley grew here. The golden ears constantly waved. It seemed to me that they were bowing and greeting me.

From among the ears the genteel, blue cornflowers on their thin feet, the golden–silver daisies and the “ambrosia” with its white, sweet roots, winked at me.

Then I came to the first hill; I had to pass the first cross. My heart beat. I looked on all sides, said quietly three times: “And you will surely loathe it.” [Deuteronomy 7:26] and I quickly ran by.

And so I came near Yona “the Halber's” house [Yona, who lives in Halbe]. The house stood alone, as if lost among the grain fields. But the long water wheel of the pump that was located in the front part of the courtyard beckoned to me and called me: “Come here, boy. Sit here and rest and refresh your heart with the pure, cold water from the well.”

I obeyed. I sat down for a while on the earthen bench. Then I went to the pump, drew water and drank straight from the pail.

Yona, a tall one with his long flax–colored beard, came out of the house. We were old acquaintances. Yona still prayed in the Michalishok synagogue on the Shabbosim and holidays. He came early on Shabbos wrapped in his white, woolen talis [prayer shawl]. He did not want to err, God forbid, by carrying it on Shabbos.

I spoke with Yona for a while. I thanked him for the tasty, cold water, wished him a gut Shabbos [good Sabbath] and walked further.

And here was the second hill with another cross. My heart beat again. Again I looked at it and quietly said, “And you will surely loathe it.” As I walked another little bit, I was in the “Halbe,” in which I was welcomed by a thick boulevard of sky–high oaks with a wide, yellow sand road in the middle.

The giant trees were pot–bellied, with wide branches and spread a cool shadow around them. I thought: these oaks know the secret of eternal life.

The bellies of many of the trees already had burst from their great [circumference] and deep old age. They were smeared with slated lime and encircled in hoops. However, they stood strong and kept up appearances. Their sap had not yet dried out. The roots of the trees, whose upper parts were creeping out of the earth, looked like wrought iron, giant fingers of the paw of a monster animal. The long branches of the trees were green and thickly full of leaves.


Original Footnotes

  1. The translation of the chapter is according to Targum Yehoash.[1] Return
  2. The name “Halbe” is said with a weak lamed [l], as if there was a Russian myagkiy znak [soft sign] after it. Return


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Yehoash's Translation – Yehoash is the pen–name of Solomon Blumgarten. He is famous for his two–volume Yiddish translation of the Torah. Return

 

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