Table of Contents


Section J:

Appendix - Family Memorials


[Pages 408-417]

To Perpetuate the Memory of Yekutiel Chepelevsky
and his Wife, Liebe Vernikovsky Chepelevsky

(partial translation)

by Kalman Lichtenstein

Translated by Shmuel Sapir

Donated by Yocheved Klausner

Yekutiel, the son of Moshe Zvi and Chaya Lea Chepelevsky, was born in Slonim on the 10th of Eiar 5626 (1866). The family had four children: Bezalel, Yekutiel, Frume Esther (Savitsky), and Miriam Rivke (Shuchman).

According to family tradition, Yekutiel's grandfather, born at the beginning of the 19th century, originated in the town of Chepelova near Slonim; hence the family name, Chepelevsky. Yekutiel's grandfather was a tenant farmer. He had two sons: Moshe Zvi (Yekutiel's father) and Shmuel Asher.

Moshe Zvi and Shmuel probably left their tenancy in Chepelova in the middle of the century, owing to the restrictive ordinances issued by Czar Nicholas I against Jewish village dwellers.

Bezalel Chepelevsky immigrated as a youngster to the United States. He settled in Savannah, Georgia where he became a shochet (ritual slaughterer). Frume Esther married Velvel Savitsky, and the two went to live in Argentina. However, for religious reasons, Frume Esther disliked living in Argentina, and in 1903 the Savitskys moved to Neve Shalom, a suburb of Jaffa, Palestine. The Savitskys have a number of descendants in Israel and the United States. Frume Esther was killed in a car accident in Tel Aviv in 1946. Miriam Rivke married a Mr. Shuchman and went to live in Mozir, near Minsk, Russia. The Shuchmans have not been heard from since the outbreak of World War II.

Receiving a Jewish education in cheders and the Slonimer Yeshiva, Yekutiel became thoroughly versed in Jewish learning and tradition. In 1887 he was drafted into the Russian army and served in Tula, a town in central Russia. The government subsequently released some of the draftees by draw. Yekutiel was among them; he returned home and married Liebe Vernikovsky, daughter of Yoel Zusel and Frume Chaya Vernikovsky. Yekutiel went into the leather business, while his wife opened a shoe store. Both of their shops were situated in the “Rad Kromen”, a row of about 150 shops in the center of Slonim.

Yekutiel was strongly religious. He opposed all aspects of the Hassidic movement, yet at the same time he was very sociable and had a fine sense of humor. He was a lifelong member of “Der Hiltzernem Beis Medrash” (The Wooden Synagogue), a congregation respected for its high level of learning.

At an early age, Yekutiel joined the “Chovevei Zion” (Lovers of Zion); he was one of Slonim's first members of the Zionist movement. As early as the late 1890's, he became active in selling “shkolim”, (Shkolim is plural of Shekel, a silver unit of weight. It was later a current coin among the Jews and an annual temple tax. It is the annual membership fee to any Zionist organization) selling stock in the Jewish Colonial Bank, and collecting donations for Eretz Israel in the synagogues on Yom Kippur eve. There was no Zionist activity in which he did not participate. At the Chepelevsky home, enthusiasm for Zion and anticipation of emigration to Palestine prevailed.

Yekutiel and Liebe had the following children: Yoel Zusel (named after his maternal grandfather, born February 22, 1890); Rochel, born January 2, 1898; Moshe Zvi, born May 28, 1901; Joseph, born July 5 1903; Shmuel Asher (named after his great uncle, born August 23, 1907).

Yekutiel paid special attention to educating his children in traditional ways. All of them had a thorough knowledge of Hebrew. When they grew up and moved away, he corresponded with them in Hebrew, the language he loved.

When the Russo–Japanese War broke out in 1904, Yekutiel left for the United States in order to avoid being drafted into the army reserves. He stayed there until the end of 1905. In spite of his brother Bezalel's efforts to persuade him to remain and settle there, he returned to Slonim. Yekutiel could not adjust himself to the American way of life, especially when his declared final destination was always Palestine.

On returning to Eastern Europe, Yekutiel spent most of his time in Warsaw as an agent for his brother–in–law, Genzelevitz, who had a big leather business there. He came home to Slonim twice a year on the major holidays. His arrival was a big event for all of the family, who awaited him en masse at the railway station. The shop in Slonim was run by his wife and later with the help of Zusel and Rochel. Yekutiel considered his stay in Slonim and Warsaw to be temporary, hoping eventually to leave for Palestine. As a first step toward this goal, he decided to send his son Moshe to study there as a pioneer. Thus, in 1912, Yekutiel and Moshe left for Palestine. The father's departure had an extraordinary impact on the community, for only a very few elderly people made this hazardous, costly trip to spend their last days in Eretz Israel and to be buried there.

Moshe studied at the Herzliah High–School in Tel Aviv, founded only three years before his arrival. He returned to Slonim in 1914 on vacation. The outbreak of World War I that year brought an end to emigration plans. The German occupation of Slonim, the big fires that scorched the town and the frequent changes in government caused severe hardships and suffering. The shoe store was robbed during the occupation by Polish forces in 1919. Business came to an end. The only breadwinner in the family during this calamitous period was Zusel.

As soon as the war ended and the borders were reopened, plans for emigration to Palestine were renewed. Moshe left for Palestine early in 1920 with a group of pioneer youths. Rochel and her husband Moshe Eisenstat left hurriedly for the United States the day after their wedding. Zusel followed them shortly afterwards; he managed to escape the sudden Bolshevik occupation of Slonim. After the Poles reoccupied Slonim in October, 1920, Yekutiel, Liebe and their remaining two sons, Joseph and Shmuel, began preparation in earnest for the trip.

From a letter of November 15, 1920, we can see how strongly Yekutiel was attached to Palestine. In spite of his advanced age, he decided to begin an oil extraction enterprise. He purchased an oil press, a motor and other equipment out of the proceeds of the sale of the shoe business. Shmuel was sent to a primitive oil extracting outfit to learn the new profession. Joseph, having reached the age of 18, left his studies in the sixth grade of high–school to learn to work on a lathe.


Liebe Vernikovsky Chepelevsky

At long last, on an early spring day in 1921, the entire family took off for the railway station accompanied by a crowd of well–wishers. The journey to Palestine was an adventurous one lasting over four months. On the eve of Sukkoth, the family at last reached the Promised Land. The family name was changed to the Hebrew name, Sapir.

The Sapirs spent their first few weeks in Palestine with Frume Esther Savitsky at her home in Neve Shalom, a suburb between Jaffa and Tel Aviv. The family then settled in a rented flat on the outskirts of Jaffa. Accommodations were most primitive in comparison to Slonim. The plan of setting up an oil extracting business failed owing to lack of know–how of local conditions and lack of capital. The Sapirs subsisted on the earnings of Moshe and Joseph, with some assistance from Zusel and Rochel in the United States. In 1922, the family moved to a barracks settlement erected on a sand stretch, later part of the Allenby Road. The barracks were thus removed in 1923 to the new suburb of Neve Shaanan near Tel Aviv. While rebuilding the barrack, insisting on doing it himself, Yekutiel slipped from the unfinished roof and was badly injured. This accident and his deteriorating state of health brought on Yekutiel's death on May 16, 1925. He died in the Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem and was buried on the Mount of Olives.

An account of the other members of the family follows.


Liebe Chepelevsky (nee Vernikovsky)

Liebe was the daughter of Yoel Zusel and Frume Chaya Vernikovsky, and was born in Slonim in 1865. She was known by the nickname “Liebe Zushiches”. The Vernikovskys were one of Slonim's oldest and most prominent families. Yehuda Vernikovsky, one of the family members, was head of the Slonim Yeshiva from 1860–1900. Frume Chaya was the daughter of Rabbi Yechezkel Nakdimon, a well–known Talmudist.

Yoel Zusel and Frume Chaya Vernikovsky had six children. The eldest son Avroham Mordechai, was a rabbi, Talmudist and author of two religious books. The second son, Joseph Genzelevitz, became a well–to–do leather merchant in Warsaw. There were four daughters: Itke, Peshe, Liebe and Chana. Meier Prussak, Itke's son, was active in public affairs in Slonim and headed the fire brigade. One of Itke's daughters, Tzipe, was a midwife; the other two, Rachel and Bashke, took over Liebe's shoe store when Liebe immigrated to Palestine. Peshe and her husband Leizer Braverman ran a leather store in the market place near the big synagogue, and had five sons and two daughters. Chana and Yehuda Aronshein lived in Warsaw and had four children. Their oldest son, Zusman, was a successful land surveyor; he married Yemima Gordon, the daughter of the famous Biblical commentator S.L. Gordon, (Shalag). Zusman and Yemima settled in Palestine.


Rochel Chepelevsky Stone

Most of the offspring of Yoel Zusel and Frume Chaya Vernikovsky perished in the Holocaust. Remnants of the family live in Israel and United States. Liebe Chepelevsky was outstandingly energetic, good–hearted, and wholeheartedly devoted to all branches of the family. She managed the shoe store and ran all the household affairs, yet she devoted much of her time to charity, giving her assistance to needy families. She was loved and admired by all who knew her. Her life was not an easy one. Even on settling in Palestine, conditions were difficult. Running a household in those primitive times undermined her health. Three years after her husband's death, on August 16, 1928, she passed away and was buried at the cemetery on Trumpeldor Street in Tel Aviv.

Rochel was born on January 2, 1898. She grew up as a beautiful, intelligent, energetic woman. During World War I she assisted her mother in running the shoe business. When the great fire of May 1918 broke out, she met a young refugee from the town of Telechan named Moshe Eisenstat. Moshe burst into the flaming shoe store to try to save some of the merchandise from the fire; this was the beginning of the courtship of Rochel and Moshe.

Moshe Eisenstat was an active young man, willing to help in any public enterprise. He joined the urban militia organized on the eve of the German occupation in 1915, and served throughout the occupation. His diary, written in a colorful Yiddish, throws additional light on life in Slonim during this interesting period.

On June 28, 1920, two days before the Bolsheviks occupied Slonim, Rochel and Moshe were married in the yard of the bride's Nievsky Street home. The next morning they caught the last train to leave for Warsaw. Moshe Chepelevsky was also on the train, bound for Palestine. Much to the anguish of Yekutiel and Liebe, the young couple's destination was not Palestine but the United States. They developed a successful hardware business in Denver, Colorado. Changing their name to Stone, Ruth and Morris had two sons and a daughter. The eldest son Marvin, is a prominent CPA and served as national chairman of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. He has two daughters. Raymond is a computer engineer in Santa Barbara, California. He has one son and a daughter, one grandson and one granddaughter. Betty Stone Corwin, married a building contractor in Chicago, and is the mother of four daughters and grandmother of two grandsons and two granddaughters.

Morris Stone, son of Itzchak Eisenstadt, was born on May 13, 1893 and died at the age of 68 on August 13, 1961. Rochel died at the age of 77 on May 14, 1975.


Yoel Zusel Chepelevsky (Art Chappell)

Yoel Zusel was born on February 22, 1890. As a young boy, he studied Hebrew and Talmud, and later studied at the Yeshiva in Lida near Slonim. He assisted his parents in the family business. During the German occupation (1915–1918), when the shoe business came to a virtual standstill, Zusel's resourceful, energetic mind made him the main breadwinner of the family. To avoid mobilization into the Red Army during the invasion of the Bolsheviks in 1920, he escaped with a group of friends into Lithuania and Danzig. In spite of his father's prearranged plan to go to Palestine, Zusel contacted his sister who had just reached Denver, and with her help, joined the Stones there.

Zusel settled in Denver and married Ida, daughter of Russian immigrants. Their two children are Clifford, a computer engineer in Houston, Texas, and Lorraine, a social worker in Denver. Clifford is married and has two sons and a daughter. Together with his brother Joseph, Zusel began a company that sold merchandise through automatic vending machines. This business grew into the big and successful Canteen Corporation.

Zusel died of a cerebral hemorrhage on October 6, 1937 at the age of 47. Ida, born on February 15, 1900, died on January 21, 1974.


Moshe Zvi Chepelevsky (Sapir)

Moshe, born May 28, 1901, attended elementary school and cheders in Slonim. In 1912 he was taken by his father to study at the Gymnasium Herzliah in Tel Aviv. The first world war broke out while Moshe was vacationing in Slonim. Moshe was a member of a group that included Kalman Lichtenstein, the poet Moshe Auerbuch, the poet Lima Helberg, Moshe Resnik, and Moshe Mishkin. These men published the weekly Bishot Hapnay (At Leisure) in 1916 and 1917. Moshe was an active member of “Herzlia”, “Ivriah”, and “Magen David Adom”, all Zionist organizations, during 1917–1919. In 1919 he finished his studies at the public high–school in Bialystok, near Slonim. On the eve of the Red Army invasion he managed to leave Slonim and reached Palestine with a group of young pioneers. After recuperating from a disease he contracted on his arrival, he worked at various jobs to help support the family which arrived a year later. In 1926 he married Tirzah Sluchin, daughter of Lithuanian immigrants. He retired in 1975 from clerical work, and lived in Tel Aviv until his death in April 1980.


Joseph Chepelevsky (Chappell)

Born July 5, 1903, Joseph received traditional education in the Hebrew school and cheders. During the war he studied in the Russian gymnasium of Kunitze. He was active in Zionist youth organizations. Before leaving for Palestine, he took a course in metal lathe operation. In 1921 he came with his parents and brother Shmuel to Palestine. He worked at his newly–acquired profession for two years, thus helping to support the family. In 1923 he went through an urgent, risky operation for appendicitis that almost cost him his life. After a prolonged hospital stay, Joseph and his family decided that he should go to Denver to recuperate for one year. This year extended indefinitely. He joined Zusel in his business, and with the help of his wife Norma, and son Calvin William (Bill), built it up into the successful Canteen Corporation. Joe retired in 1973. Bill is a real estate broker in Denver and has two daughters, Marilyn and Aimee. Joe and Norma had one daughter, Annalee, who was born July 7, 1937, and died September 15, 1976. Annalee had a son, Kevin, and a daughter, Melanie. Kevin was killed in a car accident August 23, 1976.


Shmuel Chepelevsky (Sapir)

Shmuel, born August 23, 1907, continued his studies in Palestine, first in an elementary school, then in secondary school; he graduated in 1926. For the next six years he worked at various branch offices of the Hadassah Medical Organization, in Haifa, Safed and Jerusalem. In 1933–1934 he studied agriculture at the University of Florence. He married Hadassah Shedrovitzky, matron of the Hadassah Nursing School, in 1934. Shmuel then became assistant manager of a newly–formed farmers' bank in Tel Aviv. At the same time, from 1939–1945, he earned his degree as an advocate from the Palestinian government law school in Jerusalem. In 1944 he organized the Amir Supply Company of the Farmer's Federation of Israel, of which he served as general manager until his retirement in 1975. The Sapirs have one son, Shai Yoram, who holds a degree in statistics, mathematics and computer science and works as an actuary for one of Israel's largest insurance companies. He married Yaffa Frachtman in 1970. She has a master's degree in social work. Shai and Yaffa have a daughter, Anath (born May 16, 1974), and a son, Yaron (born September 20, 1977). Shmuel and Hadassah live in Ramat Gan.


Rabbi Avroham Mordechai Vernikovsky

The eldest son of Yoel Zusel and Frume Chaya Vernikovsky was twenty years older than his sister Liebe. He was born in the mid–1840s. Studying in Slonim and various institutions in Lithuania, he became famous as a knowledgeable Talmudic scholar. In the 1880s he worked as a proofreader for a press in Warsaw that specialized in printing religious books in Hebrew. He also edited rare books such as Seventy Palm Trees, a commentary on the testament of Yehuda the Hassid, printed in 1900. He also wrote a commentary on “Ways of Life” by Eliezer of Damascus, which appeared in Warsaw in 1888. Rabbi Avroham later settled in Slonim, teaching privately and in cheders. He was a devoted “Chabadnik”, a member of a Hassidic sect. His daughter and four sons all immigrated to the United States. The rabbi spent his last years under the devoted care of his sister Liebe, and died in Slonim in the early 1920s.


Dr. Itzchak Vernikovsky (Werne)

Dr. Vernikovsky, the son of Rabbi Avroham Vernikovsky, was born in Slonim on December 27, 1876 and was ordained as a rabbi. At the age of 16 he became interested in lay studies and in a “Chovevei Zion” (Lovers of Zion) group. He published stories from Slonim in Hameilitz, a Hebrew daily. In Warsaw he met Dr. Poznansky, a well–known preacher, and on his recommendation he entered the University of Heidelberg in 1898. He graduated with a Ph.D. in philosophy and Oriental studies on July 24, 1902. He published “Shalosh–Seudes Zait” (the third meal of the Sabbath, just before sundown on Saturday), reminiscences of his childhood in the Liubavitzer Stibel in Slonim, in 1899. In 1897 he married Miriam Limon, an accomplished intellectual in her own right who became known as a Hebrew author. In 1903 the couple came to the United States. They first settled in New York where Dr. Vernikovsky was a journalist and Hebrew teacher. He then served as rabbi for congregations in Worcester Massachusetts, Dallas Texas, and Columbus Ohio. From 1934 until his death in Los Angeles at the age of 64 on July 10, 1940, he was rabbi of Beit Israel in Los Angeles. He took an active role in the Jewish community there and was involved with the Yiddish newspaper Californier Yiddishe Shtime. During his career of thirty years as a rabbi, Dr. Vernikovsky published a great number of articles in religious and literary publications under the name of Dr. Itzchak Werne. He also published several books in German, Hebrew and Yiddish.

[Pages 417-420]

Recollections of my life with my parents

by Shmuel Sapir

Edited by Yocheved Klausner

I was born in 1907, the youngest member of the family. My first schooling was in a Hebrew “modern school” consisting of four classes with four teachers: Mr. Butensky, Mr. Wolfovitz, Mr. Shapira and Mr. Luniansky. Most of my schoolmates were transferred after completion of this school to a high–school where all the lessons were conducted in Russian. My father, however, much to my annoyance, decided that my Hebrew and religious studies were insufficient, and I had to attend an old–fashioned “cheder” for another two years. I can still remember some of the melamdim (teachers). One of them, a tall, white–bearded, fretful man, was named Itshe Daiches; I was glad to leave him at the end of a half–year session. My second melamed, however, was a delicate and lovable man by the name of Rabbi Israel Jacob Salman. He was an ardent Zionist, and planted within us love and longing for Israel.

In my childhood memories, my father appears as a tall, erect man with a well–tended short blonde beard that turned gray with age. He had clever blue eyes. He kept strict discipline at home. On Sabbath and holidays I used to accompany him to our synagogue, “der Hilzernem Beis Medrash” where we had a prominent place near the Holy Ark. He always saw to it that I prayed attentively. My father by nature was an ascetic, a thorough Talmudist, and an active man who hated indolence. Friday nights after the Sabbath meal, our father would gather the children around him and would read the weekly portion of the “Chumash” (Pentateuch), along with the Rashi commentary. I would have preferred to sneak out and play with my friends in the street, but after completion of the study it was too late, and I had to go to bed. My father was a “Misnaged” and an ardent Zionist. All of the children were brought up with the feeling that our stay in Slonim was temporary, for sooner or later we would all go “home” to Israel.

The only indulgence that my father would not give up was smoking, and the first thing he would do after the prayer of Hamavdil Saturday night was to light a cigarette.

Our mother, in spite of her full–time job in the business and at home, was always busy caring for many of our relatives who were in need of help. Her eldest brother, Avroham Mordechai, a widower, had his meals at our home, and many other members of the family stayed or had meals with us during the crucial First World War years. Our mother willingly accepted our father's Zionist fervor, and cooperated fully in his efforts and preparations for our trip to Israel.

Zusel, our eldest brother, was like a father to me, as our father spent most of his time in Warsaw during my early childhood years and came home only for the holy days. Zusel was seventeen years older than myself, good–natured, warm–hearted, and loved by all members of the family. I could never forget my joy when he gave me a ride on his shoulders, or when he took me to bathe in the river. He was considered the best swimmer in town after he succeeded in rescuing the Russian military commander from drowning in 1914. During the war, when normal business was suspended, Zusel took on the role of sole breadwinner of the family.

Rochel was the bloom of the family. The only daughter, she felt the admiration of her brothers and parents. As our mother was in the store, Rochel took over home duties. She was strict with her younger brothers and saw to it that everything at home was run and done properly. Later on she became mother's right–hand at the store. I remember Moshe Eisenstat, her future husband, becoming a frequent visitor at our home. Their first encounter was during the Big Fire of 1918 when he rushed into our store to help save the goods from the flames. My most vivid memory remains their hurried wedding. The Chuppah was erected in the yard in front of our home, which was still covered with snow. Slonim had just been occupied by the Polish army a few weeks prior; it was again in full retreat from the Red Army which was to take over the town for a second time within 48 hours. The year was 1920. The next morning, Rochel, her husband and my brother Moshe boarded the last civilian train to Warsaw. The couple was on their way to the United States, and Moshe was bound for Israel with a group of Halutzim. Some weeks later, Zusel managed to escape from Slonim and join Rochel. This was the first breakup of the family. I was 13 years old. I never saw Zusel again; he died in 1937 in Denver, Colorado.

After spending about three years in cheders, when the advice of Rochel and Zusel at last prevailed, I was admitted to the High–School. All subjects were taught in Russian there. To gain admittance into the third grade, the level at which most of the children my age were studying, I was given preparatory lessons in the Russian language by a certain Kunitze. With this short and hurried preparation, I felt very backward in school. Our class consisted of about sixty girls and only ten boys. In order to cover up my scholarly backwardness, I tried to distinguish myself in extra–curricular achievements such as fighting with other children. I always had the upper hand in such activities. One result of this achievement was a broken nose.

My other memories of this period are connected with our emigration to Israel in 1921. How happy I was when I learned that our dream of going to Israel was going to materialize! While attending high–school, I spent the afternoons learning the art of oil extraction. My father planned to build an oil extraction mill in Israel. The mill in Slonim was situated in a dark cellar, where barrels filled with flax seeds were properly heated, then were emptied into a bag which was placed under a hand–operated press. Such a primitive mill did not much further my knowledge of the oil extraction business.

As another preparation for our upcoming trip, it was decided that I should study English. Together with my friend Moshe Gottlieb, who later became a lawyer in New York, I began English lessons with an old gentleman by the name of Perlstein who lived next door to us. He learned English through his trade of exporting turpentine to England. Our only English book was a Berlitz primer. I took up these lessons with great enthusiasm, and we surprised all our friends with our “fluent” English conversations while walking down the street. They actually consisted of phrases from the primer such as, “What is this?”

I was one of the founders of a youth organization by the name of “Hashomer Hatzair” (The Young Guard), begun by Zvi Chomsky and Yaacov and Eliezer Shapiro right after the war. It was a refreshing outlet to our bottled–up youthful energy toward realization of our national and Zionist goals. The drills in Hebrew, our excursions to the woods with flying blue and white banners, singing Hebrew songs of Zion extricated us as by a magic wand from our shabby existence into the glorious land of Israel.

At last the hoped–for day arrived. It was an early spring day in 1921. A large crowd of members of our family, neighbors, friends and all of who–was–who in Slonim, Zionists and non–Zionists, accompanied us to the railway station on our way to Warsaw. There we learned, much to our dismay, that a ban on immigration had been imposed because of riots which broke out in Jaffa on May 1, 1921. We settled in Warsaw in the home of our aunt and uncle Aronshein for three months, waiting for permission to proceed. We spent another two weeks in crowded barracks in Vienna and Trieste. We were allowed at last in September to embark on an old Italian freighter, the Gastein, toward our goal of Jaffa.

We were in very high spirits when we were at last ordered to enter ship and were lowered into its deep holds which normally held cargo. We brought with us folded beds and bedding, chairs and tables, primus stoves, and various food supplies adequate for our two–week journey. It was an antiquated ship with very few human facilities, not at all adapted to passenger transport. Yet the three hundred passengers, comprising many families with young children and young “halutzim”, packed like sardines in the deep holds and on the deck, were full of excitement at the thought that they were at last leaving Europe behind and sailing toward their coveted goal.

We soon learned that we were not alone on board the old SS Gastein. Our first stop was a Yugoslavian port bordered by a row of tall smoke–emitting chimneys from a cement factory. We had hardly entered port when a crowd of stevedores took over the deck and to our surprise and dismay, started to load into neighboring holds hundreds of tons of cement. This operation lasted three days. We were all nauseated by the cement dust that penetrated to every nook and cranny of the boat. This was the worst experience of our journey. Later on, the Gastein stopped at every port of the Adriatic, loading and unloading goods of every description. We were compensated, however, when we entered the port of Rodhos. There every available space of the decks was filled with crates of freshly–picked grapes, figs and other fruits. We were all dried out by the burning sun, cement dust, and scarcity of drinking water. This fresh cargo was heaven sent. No matter what the owner of the cargo did, the young halutzim managed somehow to avail themselves of some of the crates to allay our thirst all along the journey until Alexandria.

Among the halutzim on board, one especially caught our attention. He was young and tall with curly dark hair and a charming smile. We later discovered that he was Avraham Shlonsky, the talented poet of our generation.

Our last stop was Alexandria, Egypt. In spite of our efforts, we were not allowed to leave ship. Being “Moscobs” (Russians who were suspected of bearing the Communist virus), we had to spend three scorching days and nights on board ship while unloading and loading of cargo took place.

Our adventurous trip came to a glorious end on approaching the anchorage of Jaffa. The Gastein put out its anchor, and all of a sudden we were surrounded by a fleet of boats of all sizes. Minutes later the deck was filled with fez–bearing Arab boatmen shouting and yelling at each other and at us. Before long we were grabbed by some boatmen and lowered into a boat rolling up and down with the surge of the waves. Some minutes later we were standing on the waterfront of our dreamed–of land. We were all tired, exhausted by this eventful trip, but happy and elated that at long last we had managed to fulfill our dream.

After several hours on the beach, when quarantine and immigration formalities had been arranged, we were taken by a horse–driven phaeton along Jaffa and along the just–completed Allenby Road to a camp of tents bordering Tel Aviv's seashore. This camp had hurriedly been put up to accommodate new immigrants after the immigrant home in Jaffa was attacked in the riots of May 1921. We spent a few hours in this camp and were then moved to our Aunt Frume Esther Savitsky's house in Neve Shalom, a Jaffa suburb. From there we moved into our own flat which we rented in the “Warshiver Haiser”, a walled yard with a gate enclosing about four two–story houses just on the outskirts of Jaffa. A few months later, we joined a group of immigrants who planned to build their own barracks on a stretch of leased land somewhere nearer to Tel Aviv. The land chosen –– a stretch of barren sand near an Arab orange grove –– was right in Tel Aviv. In a couple of weeks the big, unwieldy barrack that was to accommodate our fanciful oil enterprise was standing among a double row of about thirty barracks facing each other. Our barrack was at the head of the row and abutted the fence of the railroad track leading from Tel Aviv to Jaffa. As a shortcut we used to jump over the fence, landing right on the Allenby Road in Tel Aviv.

By 1923 the municipality ordered us to evacuate the location as the barracks were situated on the planned extension of the Allenby Road to the Petach Tiqva Road. A new suburb by the name of Neve Shaanan was then being planned near Tel Aviv. We bought a plot of land there, dismantled our barrack, and moved it to our new place.

It soon appeared that our plans for an oil plant were impractical and unfeasible. The motor and other equipment were catching dust in our barrack. It was decided to sell them as scrap; thus came an end to our fanciful dream. This failure greatly affected our father, who nevertheless remained the ardent Zionist that he had always been. During the period of transporting and rebuilding our barrack, we spent some time living in a tent erected on our new place. These were happy days for our father. With our help, he erected our home on the new place with his own hands. Unfortunately, his health took a bad turn, but he never complained. While standing on the roof of the rebuilt barrack, he slipped and fell, breaking several ribs.

The lot of our mother was also far from easy. There was no grocery or vegetable shop nearby. The marketplace was far away, and our mother had to trudge miles in sand and unpaved roads to bring home the necessities of our daily life. The cooking was done on a noisy primus in a corner of the barrack with the most primitive appliances. The washing was done by hand. A tin boiler heated by wooden logs in open air was used to boil the laundry. We all did our utmost to relieve mother from her heavy duties, but still the primitive conditions of life sapped her health. We moved to Neve Shaanan in the autumn of 1923. The soil of the whole area is red clay, and the area is in some sort of valley surrounded by hillocks. No roads or other substructure works were built before the settlers moved in. The first winter rain turned the whole area into a swamp through which we had to waddle to get home. This, of course, did not make our life easier.

The breadwinners of the family then were Joseph and Moshe. Joseph, who acquired the profession of a metal lathe operator in Slonim, started to work as soon as we arrived. He first did construction work with the “Slonim group” organized by the young pioneers from Slonim, then as a lathe operator in a German workshop in Haifa, and later as a water pump operator in Hadera. All went well until the spring of 1923 when Joseph all of a sudden fell ill just as we moved into our own home on the Allenby Road. Just then an epidemic of the plague erupted in Tel Aviv. Since one of our neighbors took ill with this disease and later died in the hospital, our suburb was declared a quarantine area and surrounded by watchmen of the Health Department. They peeped into each house to ascertain whether anyone had fallen sick and needed to be taken to the hospital in Jaffa. I was taken ill with a high fever, and it was only by mere chance and with the help of our physician that I was not taken to that hospital. Just then Joseph suffered an acute attack of appendicitis. Our physician by mistake took it to be constipation and ordered him castor oil. The effect was instantaneous. The doctor was brought in to check Joseph's high temperature. He recognized his mistake and ordered his immediate admission to the Hadassah Hospital in Tel Aviv. In order that he not be shaken, he was carried all the way on a stretcher. In spite of his fever, he was immediately operated on by Dr. Stein. Joseph was in such hopeless condition that the doctors gave up all hope. Still Joseph fought for his life, and after several months in the hospital, he recovered. He came home in the late summer to our new place in Neve Shaanan a pale, drained young man, a far cry from the strong, fresh, active youth we had known.

The conditions at home were most unsuitable for convalescing, and on Rochel's advice it was decided to give Joseph one year of recuperation furlough with the family in America. It was a hard decision for our father, but with the assurance that Joseph would be back home soon, he acquiesced with it. And indeed on Joseph's arrival in Denver, the first thing he told our late Rochel was that his stay there was to be for one year only, after which he was to go back home. It seems that life is stronger than any plans we may make in advance; and so the family branch in Israel was reduced again.

Our brother Moshe, who fell sick on his arrival in Israel in 1920, kept busy in various jobs. During the lifetime of our parents, all of his earnings went for the maintenance of the family. After his marriage in 1927, our mother went to live with him, as I left home in January 1927 to take a job with the Hadassah Medical Organization in Haifa and have stayed away from Tel Aviv since then. For the last ten years until his retirement, Moshe worked with a CPA firm in Tel Aviv.

Being the youngest of the family (I was 14 on arriving in Israel), after the plans for an oil mill failed, I was enrolled in the agricultural school Mikve Israel near Tel Aviv. I passed the entrance exams easily. However, the tuition of 50 sterling that was demanded of me was so prohibitive that this plan was given up, and I was finally admitted to a municipal school in Tel Aviv. The later events of my life are on record in the annals of our family which appear elsewhere in this book.

Looking back on these difficult early years in a country which our parents dreamed about all their lives, and which in actuality proved to be so harsh and barren, I cannot remember one single day that a note of disappointment crept into our minds. Our enthusiasm never left us for a moment. The ideal of Zionism, the creation of a national home for our people, was the dominant factor in our lives.

Our father never gave up the hope that sooner or later all our family would reunite in Israel. It is with love and deep affection that I recall the memory of our dear and beloved parents whose tenacity and perseverance contributed their lot to the emergence of the State of Israel.

[Page 421]

Letter – Document
(Introduction to the letter of Reb Yekutiel Czepelewski)

by Kalman Lichtenstein

Translated by Jerrold Landau

Donated by Ray Stone

The letter of Reb Yekutiel Czepelewski to his son Zusel, which we include further on, has significant content regarding several areas of the history of a particular period in the history of the community. We would not have published it had it not been for its communal and historical value. First of all, it is important as direct testimony regarding the years following the German conquest, 1919–1920, in which mayhem prevailed for more than a year and a half. From the beginning of January 1919 until the end of September 1920, there were no less than five changes of government: the transfer from German occupation to the first Soviet Occupation (January 8, 1919), the liberation of the city by the Polish Army (March 2, 1919) (during that period the city transferred from hand to hand twice), the second Soviet conquest (July 20, 1920), and the final entrance of the Poles to the city (September 27, 1920). During the course of the Polish–Soviet War, the community, which dwindled and shrank during the years of famine during the German occupation, endured additional suffering, persecution, degradation, and tribulations that came in the wake of the frequent changes of government. The Jewish youth came under the scrutiny of the police already during the first Soviet conquest. They joined the Red Army as they retreated from the city, out of fear of the Polish gangs of that time, the infamous “Halerczyks” who regarded every Jewish youth as a Communist. The situation grew even more complicated during the time of the second Soviet occupation, when broad swathes of the community, particularly the youth, served the new masters of the city – the minority willingly and the majority by force, for this became necessary for reasons of livelihood, as the sole employer in the city was the government.

There is therefore no wonder at all that hundreds of the youth, the majority as well as the most wholesome of them, escaped eastward from Slonim with the advance of the Polish Army. Later, in the liberated but pillaged city, weakened and weary to death from the suffering of five years of war and revolutions, the desire to escape and emigrate grew. “Almost two thirds of our city were prepared to wander” (a quote from the letter of Reb Yekutiel Czepelewski).

This letter testified to all this, for it was written in a private manner to his eldest son who escaped from Slonim to the independent Lithuania of that time, when searches, slander and death sentences from the Soviet authorities continued to increase. He also tells us some details that were unknown to this time – that the Soviet authorities were prepared to take 150 people as hostages before they left the city; about the transfer of hundreds of people eastward along with the Red Army; and about the disappointment of many of them who later returned to the town through a tortuous route. He incidentally tells about the threatening atmosphere that pervaded during the Soviet rule; about the mood in the city after the change of government; about the city “that remained empty and abandoned, with only a small number remaining.” Finally, he tells us about the thoughts of the Jews who remained as refugees in the city.

As such, this letter serves as a historical document of the community, and as testimony to those bygone years.

It also has several other characteristic themes. Reb Yekutiel, alert to Judaism and its traditions, made the transition to the Haskalah ideology and love of Zion and Zionism, as did many of his generation. Throughout his life, not only did he preach in a fine manner, but he also fulfilled what he preached. He was a Zionist with every strand of his body and soul. Even though he was not numbered among the chief spokespeople of Zionism in Slonim prior to 1914, he was a man of deeds. Not only this, but he was preparing to go to the Land of Israel in 1914, at the time that his son Moshe went to study in the Gymnasium in Jaffa. He planned his own aliya and settlement in the near future by joining the Maa'gal, a group of Zionists who were preparing to purchase a plot of land for settlement, and were already about to purchase wood and boards to set up huts. From his words, it is obvious from his writings that were it not for the revolution and the war, he would have been among the first of the members of Maa'gal to make aliya. He was still waiting for information and good news about this in 1920. As a man of tradition whose Zionism stemmed from his belief in the coming of the Messiah and the return to Zion, he preached to his eldest son, his daughter and son–in–law. However, due to the issues of the time and the constant change of government, they did not set their sights eastward, but rather westward…

It is appropriate to note that the outstanding characteristic of the writer is his rhetorical Hebrew style, which is a combination of the literary and scholarly styles. Even during such a time of tribulation and difficulties, when he wrote to his children about extremely vital matters, he did not write in the Yiddish that was spoken and understood by everybody, but rather in his rhetorical language – for it was for this purpose that he educated them in the spirit of the prophets, with the purity of the Holy Language…

It is self–understood that with respect to such a Zionist archetype as he was, the sublime description of the Holy Land with all its landscapes, mountains and valleys – the Promised Land, the land in which “you turn it over and turn it over, for everything is in it”[1] is fundamental. Also touching the heart is his wrath toward the straying children of the nation, “who search for evil in the fields of others, who have rejected our own and love that of others, who rejected the mother that carried them and bore them, for she has become old, and looked for a young, beautiful mother – is that not a shame, and we should cover our faces!” (A quote from his letter).

When his daughter describes the beauty of the mountains of Colorado in a letter, he chastises her: “You should be more in wonder and in awe of the Mountains of Judea, the Carmel, and Tabor…”

An additional side that is of no less value is: his identity as a Jew, a merchant

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the son of a merchant, with the ideal realization of Zionism being in the work of one's hand. He found a path of studies for his son Yosef, who was already studying in the highest grade of the local gymnasium. He sent him to a craftsman of Slonim to study metal engraving. He himself intended to leave behind the vibrant commerce in which he was occupied throughout his life, so that he could toil in the production of needed products. It was in this manner, without any training, that he decided he would sustain himself in the land as a worker immediately after his aliya… He would extract oil from seeds. He was not satisfied until, a few weeks before he made aliya, he purchased the press and other utensils for that trade in Slonim with the remnant of his money. He even trained his youngest son in that trade in a similar primitive enterprise in the city.

Finally, it is proper to note the fatherly strands of this writer, how his heart was broken from a family perspective. He, who all his life “spared no energy so that all of his children will sit around his table,” saw most of them wander away from his table in his old age, and his eyes poured forth wellsprings of tears.

Indeed, this letter is seemingly private, but in reality is a historical, social, personal and very Jewish document! As such, we are publishing it (with brief omissions). Even though we are publishing it in the section dedicated to himself and his family – we are permitted to regard it as material of historical value for the Pinkas Slonim, worthy of being added to the treasury of documents and testimonies of the community.

In order to open the eyes of the reader, at the end of this letter we provide notes and explanations of several topics, names, and euphemisms that appear therein, and sound obscure and unintelligible.

Translator's Footnote

  1. A quote from Pirkei Avot 5:21. Return

[Pages 422-426]

Correspondence from Yekutiel Chepelevsky to his Children

by Yekutiel Chepelevsky

Translated by Joe Chappell

Edited by Yocheved Klausner

November 15, 1920

My dear and beloved son Zusel,

Mr. Deenes delivered your letter of October 7th from Warsaw. The next day your letter dated October 17th arrived by mail. That was the first day that our post office reopened. Words cannot describe my concern over your present circumstances. I couldn't refrain from weeping. At this stage of my life my children are scattered over the world. You remember that I was the happiest when all my children were at the dinner table. We wouldn't begin our meals until all were present. Now with you, your sister, and Moshe away from home, I feel forlorn and lonely. Enough feeling sorry for myself. I am looking forward to the day when we shall all meet on the Judean hills. Our sages say that “one doesn't recognize a miracle at the time it is taking place”.

Mr. Vensky (a Slonimite Pole)1 visited the Lichtenstein store. Mrs. Lichtenstein asked Mr. Vensky for help in relocating some of the roomers in her home. (The Poles, upon occupying Slonim, stationed some of their personnel in private homes.) Because of the roomers, she had to send her son Kalman to sleep at the Chepelevskys. Mr. Vensky asked if this is Chepelevsky the shoe merchant? When Mrs. Lichtenstein replied that is the one, Mr. Vensky yelled out: “I wish I could lay my hands on him (Zusel). I would send him to …. I, who helped his father with an exit certificate for his son Moshe to leave for Palestine, should be treated by him in such a manner. He (Zusel) criticized the Polish government. I wish I could lay my hands on him.”

Mr. Vensky, in his disturbed mood, remarked that if he can't locate Zusel, he'll throw his father in jail. Mrs. Lichtenstein, obviously upset by his remarks, told him that Zusel will probably return to Slonim within a week. We were all worried that Mr. Vensky would carry out his threat and pursue you. I was at a loss as to what to do. Now, your letter informing me that you're out of the clutches of the Poles, on your way to America, brought us relief and joy. I was puzzled as to how you'll be able to finance your journey to America. I remarked to your mother that you will wait for some assistance. And, just as I predicted, it happened. Thank God that you escaped from the trap.

Now I will briefly inform you of what has taken place in Slonim since your departure. The “Lords” (Adonim in Hebrew, meaning the Communist authorities) raided some of our neighbors' homes and businesses. They arrested a number of our neighbors when they found some hidden merchandise. One was sentenced to death, another received a three–year sentence. The one sentenced to death was later set free because of his advanced age. The second one luckily escaped. Mr. Shapira (Morris Stone's brother–in–law) was also arrested and later freed. Asne Einstein, your sister's girl friend, was executed for failing to report some merchandise to the authorities. We all feared for our lives. Thank God our home wasn't searched. Most of the merchandise was taken away by the “lords”. The little merchandise we managed to conceal lost its sheen and it was hard to dispose of. (The merchandise consisted of leather soles and leather shoe tops.) 2340 rubles is all I realized for the leather goods. S. Vernikovsky demanded the money you borrowed from him. I promised to repay him in a few days. He pressed me daily for it. I finally turned over all the sweets (saccharine–– the traffic in saccharine was enormous in World War I. Later as sugar became available, the demand for saccharine dropped. Because of inflation, most people invested in all kinds of merchandise: needles, tin, wire, scythes, etc.) The next day Mr. Vernikovsky returned the saccharine claiming that he must have the cash. (Mr. Vernikovsky, Mr. Lichtenstein and Zusel were partners in the sweets, needles and cigarettes.)

I will have to wait for the coming fall to dispose of the scythes. The wire and tin cannot be disposed of right now. As for the shoes, I am at a loss as to what to do. Whether to buy additional stock in order to have a proper assortment or try to dispose of what we have. We're getting ready to leave for Israel. If I could only liquidate the merchandise I would fly as on “the wings of an eagle”. As you can see, I am sick and tired of this type of living. In general few Slonimites (Jews) remain. Most of the youth left with the Big Ones (Bolsheviks), some willingly and some were drafted. As a result, very few of the younger generation remained. Those that were left are anxious to migrate to America. Slonim is empty and nearly abandoned.

Joseph is progressing in his trade (metal lathe operator). In a few months, Joseph should become an accomplished craftsman. Shmuel is idle for the lack of a teacher. There's no school open. Joseph and Shmuel, together with our neighbors' children, began to study English. Tomorrow I shall try to secure a Hebrew teacher for Shmuel so that we will be ready for Israel or God forbid where the knowledge of English is essential (America).

Kalman Lichtenstein is sleeping at our home on the couch where Moshe slept. Kalman has been encouraging Joseph to migrate to the Holy Land with a group of Chalutzim (pioneers) next month. I insisted, however, that Joseph must complete his apprenticeship and by Passover he'll be ready to join the next group. Joseph refuses to go to America. He insists on going to Israel.

I am anxiously awaiting to hear from Moshe. I am also waiting for some information from Maagal (a cooperative where my father invested some money for the purchase of land in Israel), as to if they purchased some land and if the building material was left after the riots. And if, God forbid, Maagal failed to purchase any acreage it still isn't hopeless. Come what may, I want and must go to Israel. The meager bread that I eat in Slonim I am sure to find in Israel. God will not forsake me!!

I want to spend the rest of my days in the Holy Land. My heart tells me that all of us will gather in the promised land and live in a much better environment. And Israel will return to their land and see Jerusalem in her full glory. It is time to quit building foreign cities and developing other people's orchards and enjoying someone else's pleasures. Our land has beautiful mountains, warm springs and safe harbors. Our forefathers advised us that our land lacks nothing. “Dig and dig and you shall find everything.” Our problems began when we started looking for greener pastures in strange lands. Our own we neglected. We coveted others. If only we had been satisfied with our own and not wandered to the far corners of the world. No people on earth is as unfortunate as we Jews are. Have you ever seen a people that has a land of their own that would forsake their own land in search of something better? We have forsaken a beautiful land of milk and honey. God Almighty!! Our mother (Israel) that gave birth and raised us should be abandoned because of her age? And we have the brazen nerve to search for someone younger and perhaps someone more beautiful. We should be ashamed of ourselves. Even if we should succeed in finding someone prettier, that someone can only be but a stepmother to us. Let us face up to our shame and guilt for having neglected our holy mother and having forsaken her. Thank God that at long last we have seen the light and are returning to her! We ask her forgiveness and with all our heart and soul we're now dedicated to her. And our land, in turn, welcomes us and sustains us.

Now my beloved son, may God lead you in the right path, good health and prosperity and that you should find happiness and security. My son, pay heed and don't forget my advice. You may also remind all this to your sister and brother–in–law. They ignored my advice. Had they listened to me, then all of us together would have left for the Holy Land last year upon receiving the travel certificate from Jaffa. We wouldn't have found ourselves in our present situation. Now I am left moneyless and without merchandise. How can I travel now? Nevertheless my son, don't despair and don't worry. America is a huge land. You master the language and save and it will help you acquire a business perhaps in partnership with Morris and Rochel. I'll try to sell what little we have left. Perhaps my brother in Savannah can help me gather a thousand dollars and head straight for Israel. I am heartbroken over the fact that you had to leave with empty hands and I was powerless to help you.

Moshe's situation in Jaffa is unknown to me. Someone told me that he's unemployed and that he is rooming with his aunt in Jaffa. However, I am sure that he won't stay long, and he will soon find some employment. Thank God that he too escaped. I am very lonely and miss you all. Nevertheless I am thankful to God for having saved you from the Big Ones. The Polish army entered the city calmly. Hardly any rifle shots were exchanged. The Big Ones, before retreating from Slonim, robbed many homes of all they could. They also forced some Slonimites to go with them. They had planned to take 150 hostages with them from among the leading citizens. Thanks to the speedy advance of the Polish army, we were all saved from additional agony. For the time being it is peaceful. No one is searching our homes and no arrests are being made.

The economic condition however, is very poor. It is hard to carry on a business. The city is nearly deserted. The outlook for the future isn't at all promising. I will try to sell the store or else I may have to lease it. Many stores and houses are for sale at half their value. There are few buyers. Even the wealthy are anxious to migrate. I am hoping to hear from Moshe and Maagal soon. I didn't write to you in Zoppott for fear that my letters won't reach you. To Rochel and Morris I sent four letters. Yesterday I received the first two letters from Denver.

Two men from Kassove stopped by to tell me that Berl Chepelevsky arrived in America. I shall soon receive a letter from you from Zoppott before leaving for America. According to your calculations, it has been five weeks since you cabled Denver. The week after you left Slonim, I received a tax notice from the magistrate advising that you owe the city several hundred marks. The tax notice was returned advising the magistrate of your permanent departure. What a pity your departure caused the city treasurer to lose all this tax money.

Some of your friends and acquaintances that left with the Big Ones are Gelman, Machinist, I. Kaplan, etc. Some were drafted into the military, those foolish enough to be seen in public. Your cousin Natke Braverman and his brother Hirsh were afraid to remain and they too left for Russia. Some went as far as Baranovici and later returned. Others changed their minds and wanted to return but, alas, it was too late. Those that left are suffering from lack of food and clothes. Their future is dismal. It is hoped that the present Red regime will soon collapse and the misery there may end. The first victims will, as usual, be Jews. The Jew, as always, is the sacrificial lamb. Be it White (counter–revolutionary) or Red (Communist) regime, we're the eternal scapegoat and remain so as long as we're strangers in strange lands and don't have a land of our own.

It is now past midnight. Your mother and brothers are asleep. Please write immediately upon arrival.

Your loving father,

* * *

November 15, 1920

My dear children Rochel and Morris,

Last night I received your two letters of October 4th through Deenes on his return from Warsaw. We were extremely happy to know that you arrived safely in Denver. I realize that your first earnings are rather limited. However, as you advance in business, you'll no doubt be on your own. Zusel's letter arrived the same day. From your letter I find that you're anxious for Zusel to come to Denver. Zusel is asking for financial help for the trip. I am sure that he, with your help, will reach his destination.

Rochel, my daughter, you're excited over the beautiful Colorado mountains. I know that some day you will be even more excited and enthused over the beauty of the Judean hills, Mount Carmel, Mount Tabor, etc.

Please hurry and write. This is my fourth letter to you. Please read Zusel's letter. That's about all the news. The eyes and hopes of the Slonimites are focused towards America. Most of us in Slonim are ready and anxious to migrate.

Your loving father,

Best regards to your brother Joseph (Eisenstat), to his wife Rivka and to their children.

* * *

The Holy City Jaffa
Wednesday, 2nd day of the
intermediate days of Sukkoth 1921

To my dear children Rochel, Zusel, Morris and my newly born grandson,

Shalom!! Mazel Tov!! Mazel Tov!! to you my beloved, on the birth of your son. You should raise your son in wealth and pleasure. I pray that his arrival will bring you true happiness. Thank God, your mother, Joseph, Shmuel and I arrived here safely on Monday, the second day of Sukkoth. We were in quarantine until today.

Upon arriving, we found your letter with the glad tidings. Thank God we're all in good health. We were joyous over the good news. Rochel, thank God for having given you the strength to go through the crisis. It is a good omen for us all that the day we merited to step on this holy ground we received the happiest news. It is a sign that we will become permanent citizens and then you will all join us here. My sister and family are, thank God, in the best of health. We telephoned Moshe in Haifa. He was happy to hear from us and overjoyed with the new arrival. He's extremely busy now and hopes to see us soon. Thank God we arrived in peace after this long and tiring trip. The machinery hasn't arrived yet (lathes, etc. purchased in Vienna). We plan to rest awhile at my sister's. After the holiday we will look for a dwelling. Please write how Rochel and son are progressing. Pardon my brief writing (Postcard). As soon as we are settled I will write in detail. Please advise us what your son's name is. Wishing you the best and hoping to hear more good news.

Your loving father,

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The Wooden Beis haMidrash
Reb Yekutiel Czepelewski's House of Prayer

by Yosef Dror

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

Donated by Ray Stone

It was named the “Wooden Beis haMidrash [house of prayer]” although neither we nor our parents had ever seen a wooden building on the lot. It appears that the house of prayer as well as all other houses of prayer that were in the synagogue courtyard and around it were wooden buildings. Understand that [this was] in addition to the large synagogue and the “brick” house of prayer (“the brick building”) that was built later as the synagogue. The wooden houses of prayer certainly burned during the frequent fires that would take place in Slonim and small brick buildings were built in their place. Although in our time it was a very beautiful and solid brick building, the name “wooden house of prayer” was preserved in memory [in remembrance] of the old burned house of prayer that was a place of learning for the earlier generations and connected with many memories. It appears the neighboring tailors' house of prayer and the khevre–shtibl [one–room prayer house belonging to members of a group] had the same fate, but they kept their earlier specific names.

It is not in vain that [the name] “wooden one,” the particular sign of recognition, was preserved for generations. Many traditions are connected to the house of prayer. At the beginning of the 19th century, when Yakov–Moshe, the grandson of the Vilna Gaon [genius], was married and settled in Slonim. He chose the house of prayer and prayed and studied there for his entire life until his death in 5608 [1848].[1] Reb Yakov– Moshe also brought the customs and revisions of the Vilna Gaon to the prayers to all of the Slonim houses of prayer.[2] Because of this, the “wooden house of prayer” was a great center for the Slonim scholars of that time – Reb Yakov–Moshe sat there working on the law and there edited the manuscripts for his esteemed grandfather. In later years the “brick building” and the “wooden one” remained the “fortresses” of the greatest scholars and of the extremely pious,[3] although there also was no lack of great scholars in other houses of prayer.

Reb Yekutiel Czepelewski had a “seat” (place of prayer) in this house of prayer; he was a constant worshipper there; he was one of the great scholars and was always at his place at the table of the Talmud Society. If he was absent, it was a sign that he had gone to Warsaw on business, which happened quite often.

I often would come there with my grandfather, Reb Shmuel Breskin (“Munye the flour merchant”), to pray on Shabbosim [Sabbaths] and holidays. Therefore, I remember the house of prayer and its worshippers very well from my childhood years. As is known, every house of prayer had its special atmosphere and was stamped with its own peculiar ritual. After the comprehensive and very successful description of the small khevre shtibl by Dr. Noakh Kaplinski[4], it is worthwhile to also describe the atmosphere and the worshippers at its neighbor, the “wooden one,” as I remember them from the beginning of the century [20th century] (and until after the First World War). I said its “neighbor,” although between them stood the “tailors'” house of prayer, the middle one of the well–known “triplet” houses of prayer that stood in one row across the western site of the large synagogue.

The “wooden one” stood at a corner of two streets, one of which led, as was said, past the “tailors'” and “khevre shtibl” along the entrance tower to the poor man's cemetery and to the house of prayer side. And the second street: uphill in the direction of the yeshiva [religious secondary school] along the shoemakers' house of prayer to the “hill” quarter with its alleys. There was a shared entrance from the street to both houses of prayer. The tailors' was on the right and the “wooden one” was on the left.

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On the eastern side, near the Torah ark, behind the lectern stood the Rabbi, Reb Khonen, descended from holy ones. According to tradition, this had been Reb Yakov–Moshe's spot during his time. He would let out a high murmur from time to time when praying. Reb Efriom–Yakov Leszczinski would stand near him, one of the 12 in the city who were the khoyker (that is, for many years the holders of the lease for the karabke [the collectors of the community tax on meat]). Near him – his son–in–law, Reb Asher Elsztajn.[5] Not far from him stood a second Slonim “new arrival” – Reb Zalman Ivianski,[6] a resident of Lida, who arrived in Slonim as the son–in–law of the respected merchant and scholar, Reb Itshe Wajnsztajn, who prayed there. On the bench opposite sat Reb. Chaim “farmer,” the brother of Reb Efriom–Yakov Leszczinski, Reb Shmuel Breskin (my grandfather). Not far from them was the “seat” of Reb Yekutiel Czepelewski and his neighbor at the house of prayer, Beynes Szmidt, “the apothecary.” (He was called the “apothecary,” although he was not one. His shop at the square sold various spices, salves and other pharmaceutical articles that an “uncrowned” apothecary could sell.) Reb Yekutiel Czepelewski would come with his son, Zisl (I remember him because of his thick eyeglasses.). Moshe and Zisl. (This was before the birth of Shmuel, the son of his old age.)

A little further along sat another group of worshippers. Among them I remember Reb Chaim Kvist (“Chaim the dark one”), a flour merchant; Pinye Alpert (the son of Reb Meir Alpert, “Meir the dark one” from Skrabewer Street). Pinye had a pleasant voice and would [lead the] Shacharis [morning prayer] on Shabbos and the holidays. On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur


Reb Yekutiel Czepelewski, his wife and their children together [in the] years before 1914


[Page 428]

Reb Rafal–Asher the carpenter.[7] The Most melamed [teacher] was the one who recited the prayers, who was considered one of the best to recite the prayers in the city. I remember very well Reb Shlomo Solovey, the shamas [sexton], whose voice would echo in the synagogue when he sold the aliyahs [the honor of being called up to the Torah during the prayer service].

Reb Yekutiel Czepelewski, a real devotee of the Hebrew language and a follower of the Enlightenment, was a great expert in singing the liturgical prayers, knew who their authors were and understood their difficult flowery language and the difficult language of the allusion–full liturgical poems for the holidays and the Days of Awe. And I remember that when selling the aliyahs, he would go into long explorations about [the liturgical poems] with two other experts in the area: my grandfather and Reb Efriom–Yakov Leszczinski.

Of the other worshippers, the old man, Reb Eli Magid, his son, Mikhal, who was the gabbai [beadle], and his second son, remain in my memory. The Magid family had a flax and mushroom business and all branches of the family lived in one large house close to the house of prayer. They were kohanim [members of the priestly class] and the ones who were the usual dukhener (ones who gave the priestly blessing).

On the middle bench opposite the Torah ark sat the above–mentioned Reb Meir Alpert, Reb Shimeon Wajnsztajn (the son of Reb Itshe Wajnsztajn, father of Yehiel Wajnsztajn, may he live long) and others.

The Talmud Society at the house of prayer sat around a long and wide table where they studied daily between the afternoon and evening prayers. As was said, the Talmud Society at the “wooden one” stood on a higher scholarly level.

As I have already mentioned, Reb Yekutiel Czepelewski was one of the main pillars of the Society.

After the great fire in the city in 1918, when thousands of homeless fire victims roamed around and all of the houses of study had settled the refugees, the “wooden one” also was occupied. For a few years, the usual worshippers had to be satisfied praying in minyonim [groups of at least 10 men required for prayer] in private houses. Reb Yekutiel then prayed at the Shomrim Laboker [those who await the morning] house of prayer. When the house of prayer became empty again after the [First World] war, and the old worshippers who had survived the war years and the fire again met together; Reb Yekutiel Czepelewski was no longer among them. He emigrated to [Eretz Yisroel] in the spring 5681 (1921). However, he was worthy of having the entire wooden house of prayer say goodbye to him and accompany him and his family to the train station with their blessings.

A little further along sat another group of worshippers. Among them I remember Reb Chaim Kvist (“Chaim the dark one”), a flour merchant; Pinye Alpert (the son of Reb Meir Alpert, “Meir the dark one” from Skrabewer Street). Pinye had a pleasant voice and would [lead the] Shacharis [morning prayer] on Shabbos and the holidays. On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur


At the wedding of Shai, the son of Shmuel and Hadassah Tabir
From right to left: Yaffa, Shmuel, Shai and Hadassah Tabir


Orginal Footnotes
  1. See Pinkas Slonim [memorial book of Slonim], volume 1, p. 50, in the monograph: “History of the Jewish Community of Slonim,” Meyte Kalman Lichtensztajn. Return
  2. Ibid, on the same page. Return
  3. Ibid, pages 95, 96. Return
  4. Slonim, third volume, pages 336–338. Return
  5. See the article about him, “Three Young Men,” by Yosef Dror, in the third volume, p. 332. Return
  6. Ibid, see the article about him on the same page. Return
  7. See the article by Yosef Dror about him in the fourth volume. Return


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