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[Page 133]

C. Houses of Prayer and Study Halls


Memories of the Great Synagogue

by Menachem Goldgart

Translated by Elizabeth Kessin Berman

The Great Synagogue in our town was very beautiful, but old, at least 150 years old. It rose high above the other buildings in our town even though it was built of wood. The wooden roof tiles were completely rotted, and green mildew was growing on the rafter beams and also spread increasingly on the windows. Rainwater would seep inside and the walls, and the floor was beginning to decay. So my grandfather and my father, and Velvel Zaks of blessed memory, approached Moshe Mendil Ginzburg, the millionaire from our town, who contributed a large sum to restore the synagogue, out of the kindness of his heart. The sextons took up the task quickly: they closed the fountain and got rid of the public toilet that stood in the front of the synagogue. But everyone who lived nearby was against this, especially the butchers, who never thought much at all of the clergy. And what is more, during market days, all the gentiles from the area used this toilet. The congregation complained and protested the sextons' work, and even more so when the sextons said that they were going to take the roof off, including the ceiling with its holy decorations, to get rid of the mildew. And the anger of the congregation grew even more when they got together to take down the bronze candelabra and the chandeliers the people had donated over many generations in memory of holy souls. Even though the candelabra and chandeliers were crooked after so many years of use, and their candles were so distended that they dripped on the worshipers, the congregation refused to allow the sextons to remove them and replace them with new, modern candelabras. But the sextons reached a decision to carry on with the repairs and renovations in spite of the heated opposition. The city was in turmoil, and the disagreement raged. On the Sabbath, the Torah reading was interrupted until finally, to prevent the desecration of God's Name, the sextons agreed to bring the entire matter to the local rabbi, Rabbi Chayim Brem. But Rabbi Chayim did not want to take the responsibility of deciding a matter this serious on himself alone, so he turned to the Gaon in Vilna. The Vilna Gaon decided accordingly to bring the tiles, the plans of the decorations, and all the decayed prayers and prayer books for burial in a Jewish grave. As for the bronze candelabra, if their weight is substantial, they should be sold, and the redeemed value should be used to purchase new and modern kerosene lamps. This they did.

[Page 134 - Yiddish] [Page 301 - Hebrew]

Synagogues and Study Halls in Radzivilov

by Arye Ayzen

Translated by Elizabeth Kessin Berman

There were 12 synagogues and study halls in Radzivilov, each with its own congregation, united whether by a certain way of worshiping or by membership in a certain profession. First of all was the Great Synagogue, whose magnificent beauty stood out from all the rest. The following are listed by size and number of worshipers:

Rabbi Levi's Study Hall, known as the “Great Study Hall”
Rabbi Itsikel's Study Hall
Rabbi Chayim's Study Hall, known as the “Spanish Study Hall”
Rabbi Dudel's Study Hall
The Uliki Study Hall, known as the “Trisk kloyz
The Barani Study Hall
The Zamd Study Hall, called the “Little Synagogue”
The Magid's Study Hall
Zisye Kopf's Study Hall
Tailors' Study Hall
R' Eli Vitels' Study Hall

[Page 135]

Religious Life in Radzivilov

by Tsvi Zagoroder

Translated by Elizabeth Kessin Berman

When I reflect on religious life in our town, I must point out that the existence of so many vibrant synagogues and stud yhalls fostered not only religious life, but also economic, cultural, and political life.

Apart from the Great Synagogue, there were about 15 study halls in our town, which were named mostly after well–known rabbis from specific places, like the Ostra kloyz, the Trisk, Rabbi Itsikel's Study Hall, Rabbi Levi's Study Hall, and others. Rabbi Levi's, of blessed memory, Study Hall, which was once called “the Rabbi's Study Hall,” was where my parents and I worshipped. I remember it from my childhood, and here are my memories of the place and those who worshiped there.

On the eastern wall, to the right of the Holy Ark, were seated R' Yitschak Bati, a hunchback, who made a living with the postal service; he owned many horses, and he used to deliver and haul the mail to the train station. Next to him sat Dov Bereles, the owner of a wholesale store, and next to him was Chayim Rimlober, a severe man who never had a smile on his face. He broke his leg once and had to have an artificial leg. Even though he lived far away from the study hall, very close to the train station, he would come to worship there every Sabbath. My father, now deceased, sat next to him, and next to my father was R' Noach Segal and four additional places for his four sons. He had an extremely long, white beard. He was a very progressive man, but he was still very observant. One of the four brothers was Nachum Segal, the firstborn, Duvid Sheyn's father–in–law, now deceased. The second brother was Itsi Segal, a very absentminded man who would smoke cigarette after cigarette, and when people said good morning to him, he would answer, “I don't have any, I don't have any…” The third son was Yisrael Segal. The three brothers would come on the Sabbath and especially the holidays, wearing top hats and making a great impression on us children. However, the fourth brother, Dov–Beril Segal, was not at all observant anymore, even though he would appear on the Sabbath for prayers. But he would disappear in the middle of the service. (By the way, they said of him, of Dov–Beril, that he survived the war, and I tried several times to find him when I was in Moscow.) And additionally, there was Nachum Segal's son–in–law, Yehoshue Gutman.

On the other side of the Holy Ark sat Herts Meirzun, a very observant, honorable man, and the Goldzberg family (Meir Goldzberg's sons are now in the Land of Israel, in Rishon Letsion, and his daughter, Leye, is in Tel Aviv). Next to them sat Shmuel–Leyb Matshteyn and his two sons; Dudye Magid; Kalman Taykh; Dudye Magid's son–Yisraelik, who was already, or almost, a heretic. I remember R' Leyb Magid (Leyb Zhov), Kalman Taykh's son–in–law, very vividly.

[Page 136]

He had no permanent seat, so he used to walk around the study hall and plead with the Master of the Universe, gesticulating like a pious Hasid.

I also remember Mendil the Sexton, a pious, God–fearing man who would get up each night at midnight, put on his shoes, dress, and recite Psalms and Lamentations on the destruction of the Temple and the expulsion of the presence of God, raising his cries to the heavens, and he remained like that until dawn, when he would begin to pray the morning service. There was a grand beggar who lived on the “perutas” that he collected from the important people, “the rich.”

There was also a man called Akiva Nose because of the length of his nose. He had a terrible temper, and we children would tease and torture him until …

I said at the beginning of this piece that religious matters were not the only affairs conducted there–the study hall was also the center of economic and political life. Business? Yes, for sure, business n the study hall. There were men meeting and conducting negotiations, trading, and closing deals. And certainly! Everyone participated in political matters, especially between the afternoon and evening prayers during the war years. There were two opposing groups: those who sided with Russia, and those on Germany's side, prophesying victory over Russia. There is no doubt that the reason for hating Russia was the Russians' hatred of the Jews and the pogroms they organized against them. But in those days, how could the Jews know what would happen to them under those “cultured” Germans, those who loved them would learn in the coming days …

In those days, the study hall served as a kind of club for Jews, who were there frequently during the day. In addition to coming there three times a day for public prayers, men used to sit and study Mishna and Gemara. And there were also those who were running away from trouble at home to the study hall… They hoped the Holy One, blessed be He, would create some treasure for them that would in include something to make their home life bearable. Also, craftsmen, shopkeepers, and artisans would drop by the study hall to “catch” the afternoon or evening prayers and at the same time catch us up on the news. Having them there was like having a living newspaper in our midst.

Generally, you can say that all the Jews would come to the study hall with their children and wives on the Sabbath and on the intermediate days of the festivals. Early on Sabbath morning, they would begin the order of the service, the Torah portion of the week, with two reading and one in translation, and they would study until nine in the morning. After that they would drink a cup of coffee (and many would drink coffee without sugar, because sugar was considered food, and who would permit himself to eat before prayers?) and go to the study hall. The prayers would continue until 11:00 or 12:00, and then they would go home to eat cholent[1] and take an afternoon nap, which was the so–called “enjoyment of Sabbath rest” …

[Page 137]

After that, they would return to the study hall to study–in the summer, Ethics of the Fathers, and in the winter, Bless My Soul–before adjourning to the third Sabbath meal. Each of the participants would receive a small challah with which he could say a blessing, some brandy (schnapps) to sip, and some fish or gefilte fish. The main part of the third meal was the reading of the Torah by the rabbi or another Torah reader and the melody that accompanied the chanting of the Torah. Then they would sit and hum Sabbath hymns to accompany the passage of the day, creating what is called “the preparation for the departure of the Sabbath” … and finally they would recite the grace after meals and stand to pray the evening service. There was an overall impression that no one wanted to leave the Sabbath's peace and rest, when there were no worries about having to make a living. So many struggling, and no one overcoming … They returned to their homes to do Havdalah with a lighted candle and sit down to a dairy meal with songs and hymns and words of Torah–until the mundane took over …

My description of the study hall in which I worshipped with my now–deceased father is typical of most of the houses of study and prayer in our town of Radzivilov. Thus our life went on in those days in the complete belief in the Rock of Israel and the coming of the redeemer, a belief our fathers were right to put their faith in … and also gave us. May their memory be a blessing forever.


  1. Translation editor's note: Cholent (hameen in Hebrew) is a stew that is usually simmered overnight for 12 hours or more. return

[Page 138]

The Zionist Minyan

by Tsvi Zagoroder

Translated by Elizabeth Kessin Berman

A long time ago, at the beginning of the current century, Zionists would gather together for public prayer services during the Sabbath, holy days, and festivals. This gathering was known as “the Zionist minyan.” The participants were mainly young people who were strongly influenced by the spirit of Zionism. These minyans also served as a place to meet with Zionists in a stimulating and uplifting setting, giving hope and meaning to the Jews' dismal life during that period.

Radzivilov had such a Zionist minyan, and quite a lot of people were proud to be part of it, because so many who participated were the enlightened of the town.

As the years passed, curious people came and went, but the Zionist minyan continued to grow. At various times, the participants would collect money for the Jewish National Fund, and revenues collected for holy Torah honors were also collected for the Jewish National Fund.

Zionist minyans didn't have synagogue management or sextons; anyone who felt worthy of the task could approach the ark, and it was the same with the other roles, such as Torah reader or shofar blower or other such responsibilities.

Visiting Zionists who occasionally came to town on the Sabbath would come to worship at the Zionist minyan, and many would discuss the Zionist movement and talk about its activities and about the impression Zionism was making in different areas.

The Zionist minyan continued to exist until the days of Petliura. Even during the final years, when the numbers were drastically reduced, the minyan still endured, until the Jewish community of Radzivilov was completely cut down.


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