by Nakhum Zilberman (Paris)
Translated by Tina Lunson
I can remember what made us Sokolovers proud in the years I was a child: the Jewish participants in Kocskukio's rebellion Tsalke Abrameles, Yente the bitter's husband, who was a fireman. The second Jewish fireman was Aron Zelig, a cantonist. In my childish view I was both astonished and envious of the fact that they were allowed to do that and that no other Jews in Sokolow were.
Besides that, people in Sokolow never stopped talking about the events during the fifth year (1905), the manifesto that reached from Bzshezshoske into our town for the Polish and Jewish laborers and artisans of the socialist movement.
Among our revolutionaries in that era were several who were famous: Mayer Soreles, Kalman Yekhiel, Shepsl Ferger and Avrom Grinberg Lesers. (In our town it was said that he wanted to take over the sugar factory in Pzshezshisk that belonged to the German, Leser.) They also talked about Sore-Mikhal the seamstress who also took part in the revolutionary manifestations of that time.
Among the other stories of the shtetl, I recall a sensational love during which Meyshe-Simkhe Yoels threw vitrol (salt water) into Shvaytser's daughter's face.
We must mention the social appearance of the shtetl: from Rogover and Koze street; from Khayim-Arke's to Khayim Rov's; Nakhum Volf to the iron head, where the lane ended, and the accompanying poverty; the shul-heyf [shul or synagogue courtyard] from the poor house to the bath house; the horse market; the few wealthy folks in town, like Butshe Rubenshteyn, and others from whom people would ask for a little chicken broth for the sick people in the poor house.
One Purim when the megile reading fell on a Thursday a market day and the poor shopkeepers hurried to the megile reading and neglected to put away the booths, tables and barrels, a group of jokesters went into the market place, took over the stalls, rolled away the barrels and filled up the vestibule of the old besmedresh [study house] with them. And when the v'yehi khoman came they began a great battle in their own style, sending the barrels crashing into the study house. The tables were in splinters and they used a piece of the wood to bang on the copper hand-laver. Right after the reading there was a parade of people carrying broken wood from the vandals. It was only then that the vendors realized what had happened
After the big fire in Sokolow, when the shtetl had begun to rebuild itself, a guest arrived in town the meshugener Ben-Tsion. He was then in his thirties, a great scholar, depressive, and sometimes also merry. His depression was supposed to have come from a love, and it is a fact that he never stopped talking and singing about love. Our town was enriched with a collection of songs about events that were strange to us. He had translated many of the songs himself, from Polish. From his repertoire I remember The priest slept with the land-lady (primative and romantic); What will be, my dear, if we marry and have a child, where will we get a crib; There in the attic stands a barrel; There are hens in the market, thinner than splinters, a post-yonkiper song; The postman who carries the news, one receives a good report and another tears kriyas; I will meet you at four (from Moniushka's Halka); Whoever disrupts our love will have foreshortened years; If I were a bird I would fly to you; and others. Our townspeople, wherever they are, will certainly remember the songs. My father was also enchanted by his shir ha'males and Khayim Shmuel Rosenboym, the musaf leader in the shul, sang his v'kol ma'aminim to a tune from Halka and all that thanks to Ben Tsion.
The thread continued in our town until the First World War. At Kalman Shepsels (a well-known name), who lived opposite Aron Karpel, near the city market, there was a soda-water factory that belonged to Kalman-Shepsels, and the second part of the store belonged to his son Itskhak-Dovid, who sold snacks and soda-water. (It was more of a kibits-stop than a shop.) Of the frequent guests, enlightened Jews, I remember: Yisroel-Leybush Teyblum, Yisroel Note, Mendl the Rov's son. Yitskhak Dovid himself was a clever Jew. Others who came there were Mordkhe Lukever-Pardiazr, Mordkhe Zalman Vinogura, my father Meyshe Leyzer and Shlapmits. They discussed politics there. We harvested the news from the front from the newspapers and discussed who might or might not win. This was during the First World War. The most interesting conversations.
During the same time, homeless guests come to us from Pinsk. Plain Jews of a high cultural level, scholars and yeshive bokherim [yeshive students] who had an influence on our cultural life. When the Germans took Sokolow in 1915, and Jews began to breathe a little easier, the first Jewish library was founded in Meyshe-Khayim Shpilman's home. The founders were two of the homeless, Betsalel Fridman and Ben-Tsion Goldberg. This began a multi-branched, cultural and national activity. Betsalel Fridman, a teacher, lived at a Polish inn near the city park. My friend and buddy Note Koyfman invited me to buy [the newspapers] Dos yidishe folk [The Jewish folk, in Yiddish] and Ha'tsefira [the Dawn, in Hebrew], which was no light move. And so, respectable work.
Shleyme Shertsman founded the Poale-tsion party. Quickly taking an active part were Ayzik Plotner, Shimen Rubenshteyn, Borekh Vinogura, Itshe Farbiazsh, Note Koyfman, Alter Shuster and Betsalel Fridman. They organized a workers' home with a reading room and a theater hall to seat few hundred people; and then at Aron Karpel's a dramatic section that presented Gordon's The Wild Man for the first time. It was amazing how Ayzik Platner, who had never acted in the theater, directed and also acted in the production.
Also memorable were the talented Zelda Rozenboym and Brayndl Rozengart. It was at that same time that the parties (among them also the Tserey tsion), started schools and evening courses with the teacher Holts-heker, and later, Betsalel Fridman and Ben-tsion Goldberg. They also developed the revolutionary party among Jews, in which the Germans perceived an enemy. When for the first time in Sokolow we prepared to celebrate the First of May, the German authority closed the workers' home, some members of the committee were arrested and Shertsman fled. The First of May celebration took place in the forest off the Drogotshin road with our members and youth posted every 20 meters. The gathering was held under the supervision of Shertsman. Suddenly policemen and marshals appeared, we stopped reading the manifesto and began running. Some were arrested and confined in the Sokolow prison.
A conspiratorial and quiet movement arose until the end of the war. The Germans went away, and Poland became independent. The movement revived and the workers' home was reopened by Shimen Yosl-Elyes. Betsalel Fridman organized the youth under the leadership of the Poaley-tsion. Members of the first committee included Elye Braverman, Tsvi Bekerman, Rivke Kaver, Motl Rozentsvayg, Malke Shtsherb, Nakhum Zilberman, Yitskhak Valtser. Others joined later. That was the brightest chapter of that time. New cultural activities began among the youth. We were made better with Khayim Neyekh Vinogura, who came back from Austria and spoke about cultural, national and social themes. He founded a youth drama circle that was certainly one of the best in the entire region. Note Koyfman gave lectures and became, because of that, greatly loved.
At that time in Sokolow the Bundist Nekhe Valigura became very active. Nekhe was the daughter of Kahye-Sore Shualkes, who only earned money so she could give it to the movement. She was also active in Warsaw, but starved there and came back to Sokolow where she died after terrible suffering. Before her death she did not want to recite any vidui [confession] but with full consciousness she sang the Bundist Shvue anthem. She died on a Friday evening. On shabes all the parties decided that the funeral should take place on Sunday so that everyone could take part in it. A watch was set up so that no one could take her to burial before then. The brothers Shpanke took over the honor guard. Her mother and the religious Jews made a huge fuss. The entire Sokolow youth and all the community resources prepared for the funeral. They covered the wagon with flowers. They carried signs with slogans from all the groups. I recall the slogan of the youth: A hero fights, sings and falls.
The train of people moved through a frigid day that cut at the hands of the flag and sign bearers. A militia of members went in advance and called for all the shops to close. The Sokolow Rebi was not pleased, but there was nothing he could do. The parade went from Khayim Rov's past the horse market in the direction of Shelets Street up to the sign-painter Librakh. There, the chorus of the Workers' Home, under the direction of Khayim Neyekh Vinogura, was waiting. With song and tears we accompanied her to her eternal rest, we raise our hands and swear to fight, to fight like you Barukh Rozenboym and Alter Shuster spoke at the grave, and I spoke for the youth. Great and small had trudged through the snow to the new cemetery on that frosty day.
The new Polish rulers recognized who the revolutionary powers in town were. Religious Jews could not excuse us for that. It left an unforgettable impression on the whole town. And we, the survivors, will certainly never forget it.
This was the time before I left the shtetl. We were known as the golden thread that pulled further on. It was always my dream to return to the shtetl of my birth Sokolow Podlaski.
by Avrom Beialilev (Givatayim)
Translated by Tina Lunson
The shtetl Sokolov lay dozing among the wide fields of Podliask with its crammed- together little wooden houses, with its big horse market and the little market where, every Thursday, thousands of peasants from the surrounding villages and settlements came together with their horses and wagons, pigs, fowl, calves, grain and so on.
Then the tumult of the market would interrupt the idyllic quiet of the shtetl. Jews and Jewesses are busy in their shops and street stalls, bargaining with the peasants one for a few pounds of salt and fuel, one for white bread, one for herring or other things. Jews move about among the thick jumble of horses and wagons and consider a cow, a calf or a sack of grain on a wagon. Used-clothing women stand with their scraped-together hangers and tables and sell their worked-over goods.
It often happens that drunken peasants try to make merry and overturn a cart of Jewish merchandise, and a judgment is quickly made by paupers, wagon-driver, porters and others at the market. Khaym the water-head, Yankele-Mayer Kret and others excelled at this. Peace between the sides was most often made in the neighboring tavern.
A Russian overseer rules the town, and he meets with the Jews only when a special blessing for the tsar is due to be recited in the shul. He has no other ties with the Jews. At the time there were no [political] parties, no rebellions or revolutionaries. So the years went by and generations were born and generations went by the way. Jews in the study-house in the winter sit around a warm stove and
tell one another stories about Napoleon, about the Russian-Turkish War, and most of all, stories and wonders of the Good Jews.
All day the study-house is filled with the melodious voices of young yeshive students and ordinary Jews sitting studying a page of Talmud or of commentaries.
On Friday evening the whole town welcomes in the sabbath at the shul, which is divided into prayer groups in the vestibule, psalm recitors on both sides of the building, and also in the tailors' room. Next door is the study-hall, full of Jews. From every street the strains of lekha doydi waft out: the Ger shtibl, the Aleksander shtibl, Skernivits, Kotsk and others. A queenly welcome to the holy shabes spreads from one corner of the shtetl to the others.
Famous rabbis had occupied the rabbinic seat in Sokolov, but for a long time that seat had not been a paid position because of the great disputes that had been carried on by various influential people. There was even a case when a rabbi was forcibly driven out of town.
An exception was the Rov Rabbi Itsik Zelig Morgenshtern of blessed memory who occupied the rabbinic seat for about 40 years (until after World War I). Besides being the town rabbi he was also Rebi of a group of Hasidim who were his devotees after the death of his father, the Pilever Rov of blessed memory. The Sokolov Rebi was also elected to a rabbinic delegation that traveled to Petersburg; he also founded and directed a yeshive in Sokolov and was active as a delegate to Agudas Yisroel convocations and conferences.
The administration of the Jewish community was then in the hands of the local mayor, who worked with the rabbi and the shul wardens to put together a budget for the religious necessities and placed taxes on the town proprietors accordingly. The general population got no report about what was done in the community administration nor were they interested.
As in many other Jewish communities, Sokolov also found a Jew who was a very generous donor: Shimeon Grudker of blessed memory, who with his own money built a poor-house on Shul Street of which half was designated for poor and indigent crazy people to spend the night and maintain themselves, and the other half served as a Talmud Torah.
A second Jew, Meyshe Malke's or Meyshe Barikhovski, built the new study-house using almost entirely his own means. From
time to time other families also financially sponsored the writing of a new Torah scroll for the shul or study house, the completion of which was cause for a great celebration, with music, dancing and a feast for a large crowd.
Among the most popular people in town were the bathers Jews who maintained the Jewish community's bod [bath house] and mikve [ritual bath] in good order. What Jew has not gone to the mikve or the bod? Naturally this was a task for the shul wardens to maintain the mikve in a proper condition. When a serious renovation was demanded, the whole town was drawn into the matter.
The khevre kadishe [burial society] was a separate world with its own particular autonomy, headed by a manager elected by his peers. Their orders were sacred. Meyshe Leyzerke's or Meyshe Moshezon of blessed memory, the ladies' tailor who sewed trousseaus for the Sokolov brides, was manager in the Tailors' prayer room. (He also directed the trustees of the khevre kadishe for a long time. ) These activists were prepared for every call, even in the middle of the night, in the terrible cold, in a snowstorm, to attend to their obligations. Excelling in their devotion were: Mayer Rayzman (they used to call him Mayer Kret), Shmaye Tame, Avremele Reyder, Yudl Blakher and others.
Also active in Sokolov was a cooperative lending and savings
treasury that was operated by its board of directors: Hersh Toybye Ber, Yehoshua Linde, Meyshe Moshezon and others. The bookkeeper was Dovid Ayzik Ber's. And it must be remarked that a group of young people established a khevre lines-hatsedik [temporary housing for the poor] in which the two Jewish medics were involved. Yankev Flinder and Yankev Bikhovski (the latter was later the only Jewish volunteer fireman in the local Polish fire brigade).
At that time in Sokolov there were not yet any secular-school graduates among the Jewish population. The only young man who studied in a gimnazie was one of Yankev Flinder's sons, Yosele Flinder. When he would come home for a holiday in his light-colored overcoat with the silver buttons he drew everyone's attention along with the envy of the Sokolov youth.
Despite the prohibitions from the tsarist authorities, there was a Zionist youth group active in Sokolov, that conducted secret money collections for keren-kayemet l'yisroel [Jewish National Fund] and other undertakings. Zionist meetings took place conspiratorially, in private residences. Young Zionists stood outside the house to watch whether the town police were watching the house too. A Bundist group was active at the same time, whose work was also conducted in secret.
The Jewish population of Sokolov was about 60% artisans: shoemakers (some 100 families), fur coat makers, tailors and so on. The remaining 40% of the population were small merchants, village vendors, teachers and plain paupers.
Even though there had been deep-rooted antisemitism among the Polish population for generations, the relations between the Jews and Poles were close. Early on Sunday morning the village vendors set off with their packs on their shoulders for the surrounding villages, and during the whole week conducted their business with the peasants, spending nights on the fresh hay in the barns or in winter, on the warm clay ovens in the peasant homes. For shabes they returned home to wife and children and brought things with them perhaps eggs, cheese, potatoes and other vegetables, as well as a little money for a livelihood.
The year 1905 brought to Sokolov too the wave of revolution against the tsar of Russia that had spread throughout the land. Jewish revolutionaries appeared on the Jewish Street, who went around dressed in black blouses and red cravats. One evening, when a demonstration of several thousand people marched through the streets of Sokolov,
workers from the nearby sugar factory in Pshezdiatke (with participation by Kipietine and Rogov day laborers) were joined by Jewish revolutionaries, some of whom were also flag-bearers. Of those it is worth mentioning Dovid Fridman, Yekhielke Rozenboym (one of Yisroel Itsl the Pauper's sons), Dovid Tenengoym, Kalman Yekhiel Fridman, Sholem and others.
Stormy times swept into the shtetl. Troops of Russian soldiers appeared , and soon we heard reports of a bombing, an assassination attempt on the military commandant in Shedlets; and soon after that, a pogrom against the Jews in Shedlets organized by the tsarist military. Some 50 victims fell. Fear of death gripped the population and many people fled to the villages to known peasants, to wait out the days of unrest. Meanwhile Jewish revolutionaries carried out an assassination attempt on the Sokolov overseer, Kutov.
A few years later (1910) on the morning on erev shavuos, a huge fire broke out in town. A strong wind spread the fire from one end of town to the other, and within a few hours almost the entire town was in flames. A huge number of the burned-out surged through all the streets and lanes, carrying what few belongings they had saved into the Christian quarters, where they placed them temporarily with known peasants, in their homes, in graneries or out in the fields. The quick response of the nearby towns must be noted: from Shedlets, Vengrov, Kosav, Sterdin and other places wagons soon appeared laden with khales, sugar, flour and other food products.
The shtetl began to gradually build itself back, but the shadow of the difficult time, the rent that had been created between the Jewish population and the Polish one during the elections to the Russian Duma when the Jewish population had voted for the folks-deputies of the Polish Democratic Parties and not for the Endetsye or noble deputies, had inspired fear and torment for the Jews in Sokolov.
Polish cooperative shops opened one after another, in town and in the villages. The Endek newspaper Dwa grosze wrote antisemitic poison, daily calling for the Poles not to buy from Jews. The slogan only from our own was spread deep and wide among the Polish masses, and Jewish trade became more threatened every day.
Tishe b'ov 1914 a heavy cloud fell upon the town with the news of the outbreak of World War One. Bad news arrived from
towns and villages. The tsarist army marked its path with Jewish hangings and blood. Hordes of homeless began to arrive. They were taken in by the aid committee that had been hastily put together, headed by Rakatsh, Binyumin Elenberg, Pinkhas Shternitski, and others. The tred of the Russian troops drew near to Sokolov too and left the town with shooting and looting and so killed 9 Jewish victims. The town was occupied by [Kaiser] Wilhelm's Germans.
The Germans were busy bringing sanitation and order to the town. The Shafran family received the concession for an electric power station and Sokolov got electric lights for the first time. And in city hall a Jewish councilman, Hershl Grinberg.
Due to the various limitations and requisitions of the military, life got a little harder but the Jews in Sokolov took it as advice. The wheel goes around: whoever had been rich became gradually poorer, and new princes arose. And there were Jewish lads working with the militia.
Social and cultural life ended completely during the German occupation. The old-fashioned way of dressing disappeared. Libraries were built, and unions and parties established. From time to time traveling theater troupes came to town.
The German occupation authority also brought order into the neglected Jewish community, establishing a community statute with provisions for general proportional and secret voting for the council. Wardens were elected: Meyshe Barikhvski, Meyshe Lustigman, Yeshayahu Shafran, Yehoshe Landan and others. The community administration took on an European and democratic character.
The war ended and Poland was autonomous again. The Jews breathed easier with the hope that the new Poland would be democratic Jews watched the elections of delegates to the sejm (parliament) with great interest. Thanks to the unity with the other national minorities in Poland Germans, Ukrainians, White Russians and others the Jews too received considerable number of delegates.
After a short while of Poland's independence Polish antisemitism reappeared, more harsh and brutal than before. The antisemitic press incited at every step and turn. Jews were attacked on the streets and on trains. The Jewish community had to widen its competence in the area of politics too. All the parties began intensive political activity from the extreme right to the extreme left. The elections to the
Jewish council were conducted under the signs of the political programs of the parties. Each party fought to win more representative on the Jewish council.
It is worthwhile to mention the names of the council representatives who lived and worked in the various terms of office before the Holocaust: Meyshe Lustigman (Agude); Khaym Zilberman, Mendl Lashinski, Motl Shlafmits and Binyumin Rubenshteyn (Zionists); Alter Khaym Kapov, Pinkhas Zernitski, Kshidlover, Shvartsbart, Zindl Lerman and Shakhne Radzinski (ha'mizrakhi); Braverman (Bund); Avrom Tsitsinski and Avrom Vaynberg (artisan); Dovid Liberman (Left Poale Tsion); Yitskhak Zarembski (Poale Tsion Right).
The rabbinate consisted of: Rov Yitskhak Zelig Morgenshteyn of blessed memory (also the Sokolov Rebi, to whose table came thousands of hasidim from Poland); and the judge Mordkhe Halbershtat of blessed memory, a modest and humble scholar and expert, the principal of the KhaBaD hasidim.
Hitler's poison began to seep into Poland too. The boycott movement against Jews took on ever sharper forms. It came to a situation in 1938 that the Polish antisemites placed pickets by the Jewish shops to prevent Polish customers from going into Jewish stores. On one market day when the town was full of peasants from the entire region a pogrom was carried out. Every Jewish passer-by in the street was beaten; window panes and glass display cases were broken out; Jewish stalls were overturned, and this went on for so long that members of the Jewish administration ran through the back streets to the town administrator to beg for help and protection. An alarm was also sent to the Jewish sejm deputies' club in Warsaw, who then sent out a deputy to investigate and intervene.
These were the first waves of the inundation that hung over Polish Jewry until September 1939 when Hitler's army invaded the town and began their death and destruction.
|Beys-yankev group in Sokolov|
by Hershl Y. Koyfman (Paris)
Translated by Tina Lunson
It was on the day of erev Shavuos in the year 1910 when the Sokolov Jews were, as always at that time, busy with preparations and cleaning their homes in order to bring in the holiday; various fragrant green branches with fresh young leaves and long delightful sweet-flag reeds filled the homes with all kinds of pleasant odors; and the butter and poppy-seed cookies were already cooking in the ovens. That is when the fire unexpectedly broke out. When the fire was finally put out it was learned that a Jewish woman had hidden her burned coals in order to sell them to tailors later. She was very busy and in her hurry, when she put the coals aside she did not first pour some waste water over them or check to see if the fire was completely extinguished. She set the coals aside in a little space under the steps and threw a straw sack over them and did not have time to think about them any more. But a little later the fire spread and the straw sack easily caught fire. It was already too late to avoid danger. A strong wind swept flames from the little room, ignited the steps and soon created chaos as the room burned. The woman had to flee quickly in order not to be caught by the flames.
The fire began to widen and ignited the neighboring wooden houses, running wild and engulfing one by one a row of buildings on the street. It was a sudden catastrophe. The panic grew steadily and everyone grabbed in their hands what they could take and ran with it. The women carried things, some a child, some a quilt or a pillow. The men took great
risks in order to save everything they could, and also helped rescue old people, the ill, women and children.
The wind that raced through helped the fire to reach further. People were surrounded by flames on several sides and were forced to run from the threatened places. Another row of houses started to burn, giving the impression that the whole town would be taken by the fire.
One safe place remained where people ran to save themselves: the large old Jewish cemetery. In shock, hungry, roofless, women and children fled there together, staying under the open sky through the nights, shivering with the cold. The men energetically helped the firefighters to localize the fire and save the rest of the town.
Finally the wind quieted down and no longer spread the insane flames onto the already-heated walls of the houses in the line of those to be devoured. The firefighters broke through and, as far as possible, poured buckets of water on the walls and thus a miracle happened: The fire was stopped. However, the majority of houses had been engulfed by the flames. Fumes and smoke filled the air for several days. Luckily the days were fine and the unfortunate population spent the lovely Jewish holiday crying, doubting, hungry and depleted in the homey good place the old Jewish cemetery.
A large emptied-out area of burned symbols of the fire now stretched long and wide, from the Sheroke to the main street of the town; the fire had cut across the Dluga in places but not with any success and for that reason it had spared the stuccoed buildings there. But several houses were burned. The fire was stopped at the first street and controlled. Near were the non-Jewish gardens and houses, and the Polish neighbors had fought like heroes and were successful with few exceptions in isolating their property from the fire and as if by miracle they had also saved a few Jewish houses that were in distress among the surrounding flames: the Kizov's, Itsl the milkman's, Yankl Broker, Keyle Dvoshe's, Shaye Dvoshe's, my father's and Avrom the fur-coat maker 's newly-built house; and as stated thanks to the huge effort of the firefighters and the
calming of the wind otherwise the Polish houses, the granaries and barns would also have been destroyed.
In Sokolov the Jews did not feel any poverty, as our American landslayt as well as our neighboring townspeople collected and sent aid, but in the end the majority of the former well-off households remained unfortunate paupers for the rest of their lives. Some of the survivors could not recover, and grew ill from agony of the spirit and also some died before their time.
In the first days after the catastrophe, when the ashy ground had not yet cooled, families wandered around the area, women, men and children; weeping, they searched sadly in the ruins. But unfortunately without success. In addition the fire had destroyed the joy of such a nice Jewish holiday. The families no longer had roofs over their heads; they were left naked and barefoot, unprotected under the sky.
Later people took a pragmatic look around and whoever could assembled the means to build anew. Whoever did not have such prospects sold their own places so that they could rent some residence with the little money they received. People also created partnerships: one gave a place and the other paid for the construction materials, and thus they started over. In the forests people cut tall oaks and pines, and horse and wagon teams pulled the long heavy boards over the highways into town.
When the summer was over the coming winter had a harsh effect on those suffering. It was hard to organize and get through that time. If only one could survive the winter they could continue rebuilding in the spring. People chopped and sawed, laid brick foundations, put up walls; here and there individual new houses appeared. And then we went through a period of twenty-five years until the empty places received their healing, were rebuilt, and the others were enclosed with hedges where the merchants of wood and boards had organized their thriving businesses of construction materials.
Not considering the tragedy of the events, the situation itself created an extraordinary and also a comic situation. There was no lack of wags who for many years
after made jokes out of it. Here a Jewish woman in panic during the fire was so lost that the only thing she ran away with was a pillow. Another did the same but one pillow was her new-born child, and only later did she realize that she had the pillow but no child. People running by in the great turmoil found a live child lying on the ground, quietly being warmed by the fire. They gave the child to the despairing mother who then survived her terrible horror.
Sokolov wags had a name because of their vocabulary of ridicule, with which other nearby towns could not compete. The town providers did their best to fulfill the needs for first aid. Ben-Tsien the shames sent letters about that to America.
Those suffering were called the burned. For the town wags however they were divided into categories of paupers: kaptsonim, delfunim, abionem. Those who had never possessed anything were called shulme-zalnikes, lo-aleykhem-nikes; those last had no hopes at all, and also did not dream of making a way forward. About them the same wags said that they were the finest householders in the town because they had nothing and because of that, also nothing to lose.
During that time a landsman, Dovid Gitke's, came back from America where he had spent several years and saved up a few dollars. He was among the first, literally a pioneer in building apartments for tenants, who also figured out businesswise how to make a living from it. He constructed buildings from inexpensive materials and at first built only the walls and the roof. Then after renting the rooms, he made the floors, the ceilings, installed the windows and hung doors. The tenant for his part had to compensate for various particulars: where to patch holes, lay bricks under, or add stones in order the hold up the steps. People got through it, and so they closed business.
A second, less lucky pioneer was the musician Hersh-Nakhum. When he set out to build he no longer owned the space. He first took money from renters and then did not have means enough to finish the building. Hersh-Nakhum remained a debtor his whole life and
could not crawl out from under it. For himself he had to make do with a room that he could never quit. He tried to buy into being a town householder but came out of that a beaten man; he was called a householder who got nothing from his position and remained a pauper. He earned his sad livelihood by scraping his fiddle at Jewish and non-Jewish weddings scraping with his bow on the hoarse strings and at such opportunities voicing the wedding music. It was another miracle that he, Hersh-Nokhum, had in his band the talented fiddler Shpilman. But Hersh-Nokhum could also recite lovely verse when needed and often called forth tears in the eyes of the nearby women of the extended family. In general he was quiet, reticent and a little depressed. His single litany, which people heard from him even years later, was that his building the house ripped the guts out of his belly.
Anyone who had a place and the means built for himself. Yankl Brom and his brother, both carpenters, built a large, long house. In today's language it would not even be called a building. Both brothers in the construction trade could easily manage that. They had gotten money from the fire fund where they were insured, and already had a claim on the place. There were also some who built houses out of brick and so made little of eventual fires.
A few years later another very original Jew showed up, Nakhum Volf, who was successful at putting a penny together with a penny and along with money from the fire fund assembled quite a few rubles. The town wags always took a reckoning of his activities because he considered himself a common man and, because of his current stubbornness, played the role of an influential man. He was a shouter, angry, whom people avoided. Neighbors who saw him coming crossed the street; even the raggedy rascal boys fled from him. Fine householders respectfully greeted him with a wary smile. The town wags mocked such activities and said, there is a fear that a pig that comes through here and leans on one of his walls to scratch herself, might heaven forbid demolish it. People also laughed at his tenants (in our homey language lodgers) as literally first-class ne'er do wells.
Our previously-mentioned, respected Yankl-Dovid Gitkes built his houses on his place on the side of the Striga. In the summer it was all green with growing grass, but temporarily at certain seasons of the year the ground around it became swampy because of the river water, which used to widen over the nearby flat land as though it might flood. Our respected Yankl-Dovid Gitkes was not overly concerned about that. He planted a tree someplace that was not fated to thrive because in the Spring gangs of children came and broke it.
On the right side of those houses was a large, deep hole that would fill with water several times of the year. People said that that they also saw fish init. But that was probably an illusion. Residents used to throw tinware and other refuse into the hole, from which it had a proper stench. And from the overflow of water it greened up like a swamp. In the summer the hole dried up and the children were happy about that because they the hoped to find little gems.Also in the nearby area was the Jewish mikve and so the whole area was like a special zone that acquired the nickname Little Paris, or the King of Paupers' estate [alt. King of Lust's estate].
by Yitskhak Rayzman (Detroit)
Translated by Tina Lunson
In earlier years it never occurred to me to look into the existence of the dawn prayer-group, why it was necessary that they prayed in the shul, why indeed at sunrise, whether such prayer-groups existed in other towns, and so on. Now, in view of the great destruction, I think it would be interesting to record for the generations what remains in my own memory about the dawn prayers, where my father may he rest in peace was one of the pillars of the group, the Torah reader and leader of the praying.
As far as I know, the group did not keep any sort of record book and if the town had not been destroyed perhaps we could manage to learn from the elders about those traditional minyonim, about the disputes between the traditionalists and the Hasidim, about the main personalities in those disputes but to our great woe that is no longer possible, and we will have to make do with what one remembers from childhood years, when I used to go with my father to shul at dawn on shabes and on simkhes teyre to Peysakh-Meyshe Naydorf's minyen for the yearly celebration of the dawn prayer-group, and others.
The following narrative is consequently no more than a bundle of memories of my childhood years in relation to the dawn prayer-group in our town.
Although no official chronicles about the time and the reason for the founding of the dawn group exist, it is almost certain that the founders of the group were the remainders of the one-time traditional [that is, anti-Hasidic misnagdim] congregation in the town.
In my childhood years the leaders and probably also the founders of the dawn prayer-group were Peysakh-Meyshe Naydorf, Shimeon Kalnia and Hershl Rayzman. Those were, as I recall, the leaders of the group all those years. It makes a lot of sense that the praying at dawn and the meeting in the unheated shul were remainders of the traditional influences in the town.
The disputes in the town are generally known about, and were mostly for or against a certain rov; it is almost certain that the disputes were simultaneously fights between Hasidim and misnagdim, and in those fights the Hasidim won out over the traditional, and the latter were left as a small handful, and over time the town became a bastion of Hasidism.
My father may he rest in peace used to tell with derision about how someone became a Hasid overnight:
A Jew somewhere was running late in the evening and came home late, in any case he had already recited the evening prayers late; he ate dinner late, went to bed late, got up late the next day and prayed late with the Hasidic minyen…
This story about lateness is a holdover from the earlier misnagdim who did not approve of the Hasidic behavior of getting up late and praying late.
From that very premise it is only one step to understanding the particular sense in the founding of a dawn prayer-group that met every shabes, both summer and winter, to pray at dawn in the shul.
One had to possess enough courage and be prepared to suffer in order to have the strength to leave the warm house on a cold winter day and go to pray in the unheated shul. To my mind that is a remainder from the former pugnacious misnagdish position that dominated relations between the misnagdim of the town and the incursion of Hasidism.
The congregation that used to gather every shabes at dawn, summer and winter, consisted almost entirely of artisans. Although there existed a tailors' shul and maybe a shoemakers' minyen from time to time, the dawn prayer-group consisted almost entirely of artisans.
Whether those craftsmen were very pleased to gather to pray with the dawn prayer-group because it was close to their homes on Shul Street, or because in the circles of the laborers the misnagdish customs seemed better established, it is hard to say; fast bonds among the pray-ers in the dawn group were not apparent and each one could without complaint or excuse come to pray when he wanted to and after praying he could stay for kidesh, or even just come on simkhes teyre for the annual feast.
There was absolutely no obligation to come to pray,
so there were times when it was the case that on the coldest winter shabosim there was not a minyen, there was no ¬minyen for the dawn group. Of course, the three whom I mentioned earlier as founders and leaders were never absent.
Everyone knows the legend that went around town about how the dead gather in the shul after midnight, and that they call whoever drives or walks by the shul during that time up to the Torah; and the one called up must go into the shul, go up to the reading desk and recite the blessings. According to the legend, the dead should disappear when the morning star appears, at dawn. When as a little boy I came into the shul with my father on the dark winter mornings, I would search with childish curiosity for signs of mysterious footprints around the reading desk, near the holy ark and on the way to the side door through which the dead had previously entered and departed.
Those praying put on their talesim over their heavy winter overcoats and, naturally, with their hands up their sleeves, ran around the shul stamping their feet to warm themselves. They would quickly recite the morning prayers, read the sedre of the week, race through musaf and go someplace for kidesh or just run quickly back home. Only rarely did anyone go into the study-house across the street to get warm, where the psalm-reciters were going full steam.
Of course the merriest time was summer. At dawn the rays of the sun shone through the small colored windows high under the vaulted ceiling and laid out various colored squares of light around the reading desk; the birds flew around chirping in and out of their nests under the eaves and filled the air with happy chatter: those praying were not alone. They spoke the prayers in a loud voice and the whole mood was like a group of adults who wanted to be together to lament to their Father about their lot, and thereby were carefree because they were sure that they only needed to remind Him that they looked up to Him, and He would help them and they would be helped with everything good.
That same feeling is especially strong in me when I recall how the prayer leader and the pray-ers would insert their own personal worries and troubles into the prayers. Such shabes prayers as nishmat
kol khay [the breath of all life] and others, which they recited with great solemnity, also made for good partners with boyre oylem [Creator of the world] and the melokhim [heavenly creatures]. That alone strengthened their mood and inspired their belief with hope for prompt help.
Although I have, for historic truth, mentioned the other two founders and members in the dawn prayer group, I must devote the appropriate place to my father and tell about his chief role in the group.
If one would translate his role into our modern language, one would have to say that he was the spiritual leader of the group. He would pray the morning or the additional service, sometimes especially on winter shabosim he would do one or the other; he would read from the scroll and call others up to the Torah; on simkhes-teyre he led the circuits around the shul, reading at the second table, seeing that no one was left out and everyone was given an aliye, and for the last aliye on simkhes teyre he gathered all the little children, recited the blessing with them and took everyone under his talis, and his face shone as though he were the happy father of all the future generations of Jews.
And for the kidesh, or the simkhes teyre feast, he allowed Peysakh-Meyshe and Shimeon Kalnia to run it. And he would try to just be one of the guests and not more.
If there was one particular detail that distinguished the misnagdish customs that the dawn prayer group protected, it was the observance of the sabbath.
First it was very conspicuous that the dawn prayer group although they prayed very early were almost never among the psalm reciters who usually filled the study-house. They did not get excited about reciting psalms without reflecting on the meaning of the words, as was the custom of the majority of the psalm reciters.
The idea of the meaning of the words which is the misnagdish custom of not reading into a text any other meaning than the simple interpretation of the verse was also expressed in their praying. I used to listen as my father on some shabes mornings when he was in an especially good mood would engage the Creator of the universe through the meaning of the words of the verses in the prayers.
A special kind of interpreting verses from the prayers remains engraved in my memory; it is the kedushe from the morning service. When my father would come to the kedushe in the morning service, I loved to listen to how he argued, in his own way through the verses of the kedushe, with the Creator.
In ending the kedushe he was already using a tone almost of resignation: Magnified and sanctified may You be in Jerusalem Your city in all generations and for all eternity and may our eyes see your reign… this was submitting oneself to fate and, with no alternative, waiting for the Messiah.
On shabes morning in the summer, accompanied by the echo in the high-vaulted shul, mixed with the twittering of the birds, that dispute with the Creator appeared to me to have more elevation of the soul than a thousand of the Hasidic wordless melodies and outbursts of rapture which I later went through in various Hasidic prayer rooms and with rebis in the study-house.
by Borekh Rozenboym (Chicago)
Translated by Tina Lunson
When there was a wedding in Sokolov the whole town went to the joyous event. Whether invited or uninvited The house where the wedding took place was completely engulfed in light and music. Guests inside and those at the doors and windows were full of curiosity. Jokesters crawled around on the roof.
The band consisted of six instrumentalists: Meyshe-Khayim on his fiddle, his sons with trumpets; Hersh-Nokhum, also with a fiddle; Shepsl with his drum; and Hersh-Ber with the bass.
Meyshe-Khayim was a spruced-up little Jew, a dandy who wore a hard felt fedora. Very adept, he would dip and bow to the guests and in-laws and put everyone in a merry mood. The young women were enchanted by his elegance. And when he took a young lady by the chin she would simply melt under his hand. Khashe, he would say, Zelde is yesterday's potatoes compared to you, and as he lost himself in his fiddle the entire wedding swam with his music.
Hersh-Nokhum, an ordinary Jew, God-fearing, loaded with children, and earned his living in the villages. When people called him to their weddings he went, and between one wedding and another, he sat in the old study-house and prayed for God to send him something. That is why Shepsl the drummer and Hersh-Ber had other livelihoods, as barbers.
Shepsl the drummer was a better barber, a little of a dandy, with a pointed beard and a round cap with a shiny visor. So the youth of Sokolov went to him for a cut.
Hersh-Ber would cut for poor people and children and quietly
chat them up, the same way he would stroke his bass, against his brother Shepsl his competition.
It's been so long since there's been a wedding; when, do the think, will there be a wedding? At a wedding I could make a gilden toward my livelihood and grumble quietly away until he had put the client to sleep.
Hersh-Ber was the first to arrive at a wedding with his big bass. Once he hung his big instrument on a fly that had landed on the wall and crash! The bass fell and splintered. Hersh-Ber stood over the splinters and mumbled, Jews, didn't you believe that that was a nail?
Ben-Tsien the shames's son's Stories
Every year for hoshanerabe we would weave hoshanes in our house. The season for weaving the hoshanes was a great holiday for me. First of all the harvest. My father and I went out to the fields among fresh leaves, rye and flowers, and soon the house was completely refreshed: we had brought the field into the house, it smelled like the ripeness of summer.
In the evening everyone gathered: my father, Ben-Tsien, Meyshe-Shakhnes and Simkhe-Yoel. We all sat around a table weaving hoshanes, and the house was very homey; at the chimney a cabbage borsht with raisins cooked along, and Ben-Tsien, a Jew with a rich imagination, started to tell stories.
One night after a wedding, he said, I come into the shul to set up the light on the cantor's desk; I open the door and go inside the shul and give a look around: a shul full of Jews and all the same pious faces but not one familiar face. A cantor stands at the Torah table and sings oy l'roshe v'oy l'shokheynu to a completely strange melody. I go up to the shames and tell him, well, give me a sidur too. I look into the sidur and the words are all mixed up. I go to the table and say, In the merit of my grandfather you must leave. All at once it got dark and there was a commotion, a knocking, whistling. People running to the attic, up to the roof, on the stairs, and one of them gave a big whistle and it got quiet. So then I lit the light and went home.[Page 130]
And how to you call a bridegroom into shul, have I told you already?
Not yet, so please, tell us now!And a wedding jester stands up and recites rhyming verses:
A bridegroom goes by the shul late at night during the week of his wedding, and he hears how they call his name with a melody and all the windows of the shul are illuminated. He goes in to the shul. There is a wedding and the khupe is right over the Torah table. The bride in white stands and waits, and someone whispers in his ear It's your bride.
'Bridie, bridie, don't you worry.As I come into shul the khupe was still there. I go up to the bride and ask, whose daughter are you? She sticks her tongue out at me, rises up and runs away. The shul is suddenly dark and quiet, I can only hear the voice of the jester who rhymes:
What you were last night
you won't be tomorrow.
From today on you will be a pair,
as guests and folk rejoice with you.
On a summer nightAnd it was quiet. I light a lamp and find the bridegroom fainted on the ground.
a white goose flies;
eight witches dance.
Ha! they dance here;
Ha! They dance there;
a cloud of smoke flies up
all are dumb.
A Proletarian Funeral
A friend died in Sokolov Nikhe Vieligore who before the war lived in Warsaw. When the war broke out the unemployment drove her home to her mother in Sokolov. Her mother had a little shop among the stalls in the market. The shop was mentioned specifically in Sh. Frug's A Little Shop. One could buy pins and buttons there, ribbon and ZATSHASKES; earrings and garters, hair ribbons and lace and all for pennies. The mother made
her living there. When Nekhe came home she helped her mother in the shop.
When the Germans invaded Poland, the shop began to fail and then closed. There was hunger in their home, and Nekhe , genteel and starving, died from the proletarian illness consumption.
The Bundist Committee in Sokolov decided to make a demonstration against the Polish government, which was already out of power. The Bundist Committee called on the Poale Tsion organization to unite with the funeral. The funeral procession then became very imposing, like nothing Sokolov had seen before. The demonstration stretched over the entire length of Shedlets Street up to the strolling park. The funeral procession filled the whole horse market, right across from the police station. From there the procession extended to the new cemetery. Along the way we heard the song of the Bundist vow:
Brothers and sisters in toil and in wantand
all who are scattered and dispersed
Toiling women, burdened womenThe Poeley Tsion sang:
We raise our hands to the East and we swearSpeaking at the funeral were Avrom Grinberg, Meyshe Hokhman, Nokhum Zilberman, and myself.
by all that we love and hold sacred
In the same night several members were arrested, held for a while and then set free.
Everyone who took part in it will remember that funeral.
by Yisroel Kasher (Kibuts Negeva)
Translated by Tina Lunson
People called my father may he rest in peace Motl Grine's. I do not know why; although he came from the town of Kosov.
The whole multi-branched family of uncles, aunts, in-laws and even the grandchildren, were called by Grandmother Grines' name, for example, Berish Grine's and so on. Perhaps this was because the burden of the livelihood was always on Grandmother's shoulders. My grandmother as I remember her from my childhood years was small, touching, always busy, wearing a high cowl with glistening beads on her head and summer and winter with a long apron. In her free time she would look into a sidur and mumble
My grandfather Meyshe-Hersh Leyser's (and that grandfather was also called Meyshe Grine's), was, as I see him in my memory, of short height with a high, white forehead, a transparently white face and two bright black eyes. In summer and winter he sat by the baking oven and occupied himself with study, delving deep into holy books.
On frosty evenings there was noisy tumult in my grandfather's room, with shouting and arguing sharp and excited, sometimes accompanied by cries to the heart of heaven. The silhouettes on the wall would rise and shake, and as a child I was simply afraid to go to my grandfather and his visitors affected me badly and I was not fond of them. When my grandfather was stubborn about a verse, a commentary or a meaning, no one could win him over him by any means, even when they showed him in black and white. Because of this they called my grandfather Meyshe the stubborn. His greatest opponent in study was Mendl-Meyshe Aron's, the ritual slaughterer. Of medium height and short-sighted, he used to hold the book almost in his face with its beautifully combed beard; his smock was almost always a light-colored one, with a long, broad sash. Sometimes they were so deep into their angry quibbling that it appeared that they were two dangerous enemies.
At dusk, when the windowpanes fogged up as the night settled in, they became calmer and relaxed their sharp argumentation. When taking their leave they smiled with goodwill and on the dark steps wished one another health and a good year.
A frequent guest was Mendl Idis's, a leather cutter, who had a shop in the small market square; he always dressed up in a black frock coat and polished shoes. He was short and generally happy. To this day I remember his pinches on my cheeks.
When Yoyne Blekher [or der blekher, the tinsmith] small and thin, with two merry eyes, wearing a rusty-looking smock that itself looked like a piece of tin came in with his stories, the serious mood changed. He made everyone happy, and even my grandfather's face lost its seriousness. Except that Yoyne Blekher was a beggar in seven coattails, and people used to say about him that he could make anything only not work on shabes.
* * *
My grandfather's soda-water factory was in a cellar room on the same lane as the old study house. At the entrance of the always-dark cellar stood crates of bottles, coarse, pasted with various colorful labels. On the steps going further down stood large and small brass demijohns and a large kettle to cook the water. But the water was never cooked, and the kettle was always cold, they were just for appearance.
Leyzer pasne stood at a machine with a huge wheel and two handles, turning the wheel. As I remember it there was only one worker, called Leyzer pasne because it was said he only liked to eat plain dishes; he turned the wheel of the machine and also delivered the demijohns of soda-water to the shops. The point is that he sweated on the summer Thursday market days, then worked the wheel without stop, and provided all the shops with soda-water. On Fridays before shabes, when the cry was already going out, Shabes, shabes! and Jews hurried to close their shops, Leyzer was still carrying the demijohns of ice on his thin shoulders. He did not make much of a living from
that work; he usually worked from early 'til late in the night carrying the demijohns and turning the wheel or delivering ice. Nevertheless he was always happy, a happy pauper as they used to say.
My grandfather also maintained an ice cellar at the old pharmacist's in the garden. In the summer the old pharmacist used to sit in the lovely fruit orchard with old women and play cards. The women smoked cigars (in those days that was surprising). The boys from kheyder tried to steal apples from the orchard, by way of a hole in the fence near the entrance from the side of the old study house. When my grandfather passed away (I was away at preparatory training), Mendl-Meyshe Aron's went to the cemetery on tishe-b'ov and wept bitterly over the grave of Meyshe-Hersh Leyzer's, because he had no one to talk to. After a short time Mendl-Meyshe Aron's also departed this life and both friends found their place together.
My father who was called Motl Grine's in the town, stemmed from the town of Kosov, a son of a ritual slaughterer. The marriage match was arranged at a meeting of both in-laws at the Aleksander Rebi's court.
After breaking from his in-laws' room and board, my father received his dowry: a shop for shoemaking accessories.
On the summer evenings as a child I would sit there in the shop on a big table or on a sack of little wooden pegs or shpeyln as we called them, and listen to the fantastic stories that the shoemakers told about Fonye the thief when they were all in the tsar's army.
A frequent visitor to our shop was Yenkl Shuster, a strapping broad-shouldered and solid Jew with a short black little beard, his round cloth hat cocked to one side. His usual stories about Fonye and especially the story about his sword, made a strong impression on me, and in my child's imagination he always appeared as Bar Kokhba. The shop was open til late in the evening. But when night fell, the shoemakers came quickly from minkhe-mayrev services because dinner would be ready in their homes to buy a cigarette or two. Big earners would buy half a box, not, of course, of the best quality.
Our town Sokolov was known as a shtetl of craftsmen tailors and shoemakers. The tailors worked in ready-made clothes for the surrounding area. The so-called artisans worked from early til late at night, and the merchants who also worked
went around in packed wagons to the neighboring towns and villages all day and night, and almost the entire family lugged merchandise to the fairs.
Each line of business was family run. If the father was engaged in driving to the fairs and selling ready-made clothing, it passed on to the children and grandchildren and became a family enterprise. More than once sharp competition occurred even between brothers.
Before the First World War, boots from Sokolov were sent to Russia. A popular saying then was that the situation of the shoemakers was so good that they put figs in the tsholent [sabbath stew].
My grandmother Grine's told me that when my grandfather first got his shoemaking accessories shop, he used to give out khanike gelt to all the shoemakers. Each client received a roasted goose and a bottle of whisky. Of course the merchants were well-off and lived like the shoemakers.
The shoemakers sat at their little benches from early morning til late at night and pounded with their hammers as the saying goes, until late into the needle. The shoemakers' songs carried out into the streets and alleyways. The first political labor-party began to be developed among the shoemakers the Bund in Sokolov. As it was told, Shepsl Ferger organized the first strike by the shoemakers so they would not have to work shabes night.
The largest and the main street in the center of the town was Dluga Street; it stretched from the town entrance to the train station. In summer the young people strolled there. Not many Jews lived along the way to the train station. In the last years Khayim Shmuel lived there; he had built the first mill in town near the old cemetery. He had to sell it to Note Paterkaze, a Jew who had made a lot of money from the Paterkaze Prince and who replaced it with a big modern mill.
Khayim Shmuel was the long-time prayer leader for the Days of Awe in the great shul. His heartfelt prayers tore up all those praying. There was a well with a wooden bucket in Khayim Shmuel's yard, tied on with a coarse rope. In the summer Jews would come there to drink the cold, soft water after eating the tsholent.
Shleyme Rozenberg's hotel was at the beginning of Dluga Street the first modern hotel in town. He had
merchants, agents, artists, lecturers and ordinary intelligent people stay there. Across from that hotel was a wooden house that for years was the Feder's hotel. Observant Jews used to stay in those dark rooms, for the most part Hasidim who had come to see the Sokolov Rebi for the holidays.
* * *
The fine masonry buildings stretched along under the chestnut trees on Dluga Street, paved with round cobblestones and sidewalks. When the peasants came for the market days in their wagons with iron treads on the wheels they echoed along the whole street. On Dluga Street most of the businesses were shops, REZURES and beer halls.
My grandmother's tavern was across from the market, where Bzshuske's Pomnik stood, and near a well with a pump where the whole street went to pump their water. Near the tavern stood the carriages with their well-kept horses that took the crowd to the train station. The porters sat on the steps of the tavern, and from time to time, after making a bit of money, popped inside for a quick schnapps. My old grandmother Grine and her children ran the tavern and on many Thursday market days when the peasants became rowdy, benches, bottles and glasses would fly until the police took the bloodied peasant off to the jail. On market days two gentiles often sat in the tavern and played harmonicas and drank drinking more than playing. My uncle Pinkhas stood at a big barrel with a copper pump and tapped big, thick beer glasses and filled them with foam. In the evenings my grandmother murmured from her korbn-minkhe prayer-book and asked God for the market days to be good and for everything to go peacefully.
At dawn sleepy Jews in neglected smocks, with taleysim under their arms, would come down the hill from my grandfather's lane to the old study-house to pray. Craftsmen from the first minyon hurried back up the hill to their hammers and shears.
As a child, and later, as a Talmud student with peyes and a round cloth cap, and a smock with a belt, I was very much afraid of going into the old study-house because right across was the shul, the big, tall, beautiful shul with its many-colored little windows. On the shul ceiling was painted a blue heaven with stars in several colors. The birds from the street would fly around above the Torah ark with their big
bodies. Among us children we told one another that they were wandering souls.
On the first floor near the entrance to the women's section stood big cartons of pages from old holy books, which we used to say were souls lying the cartons and awaiting salvation. There was also a box of sand there, which held the results of all the circumcisions in town.
Further along, down the hill from the study-house, was the mikve that served the whole town, poor and rich. For the wealthy, the fine proprietors, the bath-keeper Avrom whose other part-time livelihood was as a tinsmith put a little more wood under the water heater.
The Strige flowed near the mikve. It was a narrow stream, one could get across it in a single leap. The only stream in town, it served the householders for washing laundry and all the mitsves of the whole year: to kasher utensils for peysakh and to perform tashlikh at rosh-ha'shone.
The old cemetery with its collapsing gravestones was almost in sight; it was surrounded by a high fence. Among us kheyder children we said that the dead went out of the cemetery at night to pray at the shul. On winter nights when we had to go through that street on the way home from kheyder with our lanterns in hand, we raced through that street in terror. In winter Jews ran through that street, sliding and holding on to the walls. When there was freeze or a blizzard, people were afraid until they were inside the study-house.
In the entrance to the study-house was a big heavy table where the book-seller a tall, yellowed and mean-tempered Jew sold prayer-books, taleysim and some story-books. When a preacher, a cantor or a regular vunderkind came to speak on a winter evening, the gabay of the study-house stood at the table and did not let the audience members slip through before they had turned over a few groshen. The table was also used by the poor strangers passing through (we called them the goers) . During the day they went around to houses and shops, and between minkhe and mayrev they waited at the table so that some householder would take them home for a warm supper.
My father may he rest in peace, although he was a devoted senior member of the Mizrakhi, was an Aleksander hasid; mostly he wore his talis under his overcoat and his yarmulke under his round cloth cap, and in the winter he prayed at the Aleksander shtibl on the sabbath.
The Aleksander shtibl was in a small room off the vestibule of the great shul. It was usually crowded there, and the Hasidim were generally sitting and standing pressed together and prayed with enthusiasm and fire. The shtibl smelled of sabbath coats, black silk frock-coats with long, wide sashes that bobbled and shook when they prayed.
* * *
The new study-house on the street of the small market did not have a vestibule, one just went right in to pray. The commotion that had always gone on in the old study house of the hurried householders was absent here. And the yeshiva boys did not study in the study-house, as it was more for the laboring folk, the amkho tailors, shoemakers, craftsmen. On the long Friday evenings in the winter Yoysef Mendl Zshitelni (we called him the little rebi), a small Jew, a hat-maker, would read the Torah portion of the week or the Ford of Jabok for the weary, exhausted craftsmen who had labored all week and now sat around tables: and gradually the Jews fell into a sweet dreaming from the fantastic tales in the Torah.
* * *
In the small market the women vendors sat on low boxes and in summer sold red cherries and big green sour gooseberries which the kheyder boys bought for a couple of groshen. In the cucumber season there were whole mountains of cucumbers. During the Days of Awe and Sukes-time there were huge sacks of apples, pears and plums; during the winter snows and frosts those market-sitters, bundled up so that only their eyes peeked out, sat with fire-pots at their feet and sold frozen apples that tasted of the Garden of Eden.
On Thursdays the women bought fish in the market, especially big live carp or pike: the town was known as lovers of good food, and one could only get big live fish at the Thursday market, and woe to the housekeeper who did not manage to get fish on that day. She would have to make do with little fish on Friday, as the poor people did.
* * *
My father may he rest in peace prayed during the summer in the Mizrakhi shtibl, by Alter Bekerman (crooked head). On the week days that shtibl was used as a kheyder, the first progressive kheyder in town (besides the povshekhne Polish school), where one studied both holy and secular subjects; it was later the Yavne Library. There were no Jewish schools or middle-schools in town, only a Talmud-Torah where mostly poor children studied. Some children of parents of means studied in other places and gimnazies, and they came home for vacations in their little gimnazium caps, arousing a lot of envy.
Most of the people in Mizrakhi were middle class, among them were also some who had to fight bitterly for a little livelihood.
When shabes came we went around to be examined by various householders, members of Mizrakhi. I recall liking Pinkhas Rafolovitsh the best, because he always took us in with a big Gut shabes, kinder!, and a merry smile. First he welcomed us with shabes fruits and a big slice of strudel, and then we had to recite the lesson from the Talmud.
At khanike the shul prepared the theater presentation and we played Khane and Her Seven Sons. The children were in seventh heaven with joy.
The youth of the Mizrakhi consisted of children of well-off households, whose fathers prayed in the Ger, Kotsk and Aleksander shtiblekh. Their revolutionary act was to dress short, most of them in fedoras, and they prayed on shabes at Mizrakhi.
One of the youths in Mizrakhi at that time was Meyshe Shpiro (we called him Meyshele), very thin, short, but he possessed eyes that burned and danced. Always very active, a born community activist, he was an orphan without a father. As I recall, when he was thirty years old he stood for military conscription (at times some parents did not record the correct birth dates).
A famous character in town who prayed at the Mizrakhi shul was the dead one we called him Shmuel the Dead. As it was told, he was the only child of his parents, and as their salvation he wore white clothes until he was thirty. From then on his name was Shmuel the Dead One. He made his living selling newspapers. He did not become wealthy from such a living. People said
May God send many children to the subscribers. And Shmuel had a house full of children. But no one else in town was such a merry-maker as Shmuel the dead; for each person he had some good, funny witticism.
And then, simkhes toyre in the Mizrakhi shtibl. Simkhes toyre was the happiest holiday. Almost right after the morning prayers people started making toasts. And after the service people went around to the houses and brought the delicacies that the wives had prepared. More than once the Dead One himself came in and carried out for the crowd almost everything that had been prepared for the holiday. The special event was the evening of simkhes toyre when a huge barrel of beer with a brass tap was set up and people drew from it without stopping. I remember the time when were we children, the _____________ was very big, and Shmuel the dead laid himself on the ground wrapped in a talis and lit a candle at his head, and everyone started crying over him until one of the older Jews realized that it was him and, seeing the theater in it, took a pail of cold water and poured it over him. The dead very quickly got up, as the resurrection of the dead.
Leybl Prints was a respected and valued Jew in the Mizrakhi, a tall, broad-shouldered Jew. He had a shop on Dluga Street for various oils and dyes. He generally sat by himself in his shop in a dress-up smock, from which one could draw olive oil. In his free time he was always deep in holy books, also secular books, journals and newspapers. Although he was very religious, Leybl Prints was an avid reader of secular books and was very knowledgeable about classic literature. He had a book dedicated to our town that some Jew had written one hundred years earlier. Leybl Prints was observant of the sabbath, with his extra sabbath soul, with the black silk frock-coat, with his sky-blue eyes, with his fine fire-red beard, he gave the impression of figures from the Torah. His heart-felt, blissful praying at the cantor's desk, especially in the Days of Awe, broke the hearts of all the congregation.
On shabes when the panes in the windows began to darken in the evening they celebrated the third meal and ate khale with herring. Others gathered at that time in groups and stood and talked. The sun would then slowly slide behind the town in melancholy After that the women recited Got fun Avrom and the weekly-ness dominated the world. In a usual
group which consisted of Leybl Prints, Meyshe Zaremski, Shmuel Ayzenkremer, Gedaliya Feler and my father, waiting for the first-emerging stars, they stood and chatted about politics or told stories from old times in the shtetl Sokolov. As a child, I would stand by my father and impatiently listen to those stories which remain in my memory to this day
|The City Park|
|Workers for hire|
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