by Tzvi Stolovitzki
Translated by Harvey Spitzer zl
Beloved and pleasant in their lifetime and in their death were not parted
They were from the finest residents of our town before its decline. They were … swifter than eagles, stronger than lions to do the will of their Creator. They devoted all their time to learning and gave their lives for it. They were companions and faithful support to Maran HaRav R' Yehosha Lieberman, in his great undertakings, to disseminate Torah values and to strengthen Torah in our town.
They endured as a group also during the rule of blood and worked together performing forced labor in the Ortshochi forests, cutting down trees and paving a dirt road. They made their way on foot every day, to and back from work, a distance of 10 km, with another 80 people from the town. There, they were tormented with hard labor.
But, it wasn't long before the malicious waters passed over them and swallowed them.
In July 1941, a few weeks after the German invasion, a Gestapo gang secretly came into the town, and towards evening, at the time the Jews were returning from their hard work, they hunted down the returnees. Their anger was mainly vented against this group of workers who returned from the Ortshochi forests. After a short selection, they seized their prey, looking for men of status, who stood out in their spiritual and intellectual appearance, and the like. It's no wonder that they also managed to catch the four personalities below.
I am a man who saw affliction… when HaRav R' Moshe Giteles was brought to the Gestapo detention room in the building of the former Polish police station, for they also hunted me like a bird at the corner of Yurezdikke Street. To my distress, I also saw my eldest brother, Shlomo Stolovitzki, an expert scribe in our town, being brought to the same room. They made us get on our knees and we exercised for a long time while absorbing blows at the hands of the murderers equipped with rubber clubs, and other cruelties. An hour later, again after a selection, a group of 15 men was taken outside, and after being treated for hard blows by the men of the Gestapo, who were swarming around on our right and left, we were ordered to run into the street and thus were saved by a miracle from their clutches.
The rest of the abducted men, about 50 in number, among them my brother and the four outstanding personalities, were combined with the former group of 40 men, most of who were from the intelligentsia and were individuals of status, who had also been abducted by the Gestapo and taken out of their homes a few days earlier. They were all executed in the Okintchitz forest behind the slaughterhouse.
G-d will avenge their blood.
A. HaRav R' Shlomo Chari
Was a native of Brisk de-Lita [Lithuania]. He received his education in well-known and highly praised Torah educational institutions in his hometown, and from there he transferred to the Mir Yeshiva.
He married Pessia, daughter of R' Shlomo Lieberman, whom he replaced as ritual slaughterer and meat inspector after his death. He quickly earned a name as an expert ritual slaughterer and meat inspector and while still a young married yeshiva student, he was already teaching and guiding other young men in this craft. He stood head and shoulders above others in more senses than one: he was physically strong; his face, adorned with a blond beard, was wonderfully noble and handsome with respect to the idea: a man's wisdom lights up his face and expressed knowledge, tenderness, good-heartedness, and fastidiousness. His dealings with people were conducted pleasantly and calmly. He won everyone's affection within the short time of his stay in Steibtz.
Seated from right: Yosef Kapushtchevski, HaRav Dovid Shmuelovitz, Aharon Chait, HaRav Shlomo Chari, HaRav Yeshayahu Barishinsky, Idel Bernstein, Yosef Ruditsky.
Standing from right: Isaac Shapiro, Chaim Stolovitzki, Alter Menaker, Shlomo Stolovitzki, Lieb Aharon Gruness, and Zalman Feibushevitz
He officiated as a cantor on the Days of Awe and his pleasant and heart-felt voice enchanted his listeners, especially in the Ne'ilah prayer. He served as a companion and loyal assistant to his brother-in-law, HaRav Yehosha Lieberman, and never left his side in all the public activities in the town. He carried out the function of the principal of the Chorev School and represented it vis-a-vis the authorities. He also stood at the head of the building activity of Beis Yaakov School.
He was elected chairman of the branch of Agudas Yisrael, which was established in Steibtz around the year 1934. He knew Polish well, the language of the country. With his command of Polish, he accompanied as a translator to the students of Mir Yeshiva, many of whom were foreign citizens, when they came to the district office (Starostava) to extend their permits to stay in Poland. After the death of R' Yoel Sorotzkin in the year 5698/1938, he officially replaced him as rabbi of the community vis-a-vis the authorities.
As much as he was normally reticent, so did his joy increase to the same extent on the day of Simchat Torah, and then he went wild. Steibtz stood out as a town of indifferent misnagdim the holiday hardly made an impression on it. Only during the period when HaRav R' Yehosha Lieberman served as town rabbi, and with the strengthening of the status of the yeshiva students and men of learning in the town, a change for the better took place. Dozens of yeshiva students, who returned home for the holidays, brought a festive atmosphere, with their entrance, real happiness, and joy which reached their peak on Simchat Torah.
Then, they would gather for prayers and the hakafos in the auditorium of Beis Yaakov. A few Chassidim also came in order to make the holiday great and glorious they didn't organize their special minyan on that day. Steibtz residents, especially the youth from all the neighborhoods and strata, filled the prayer hall en masse until there was no more room. The rejoicing increased and HaRav R' Shlomo Chari, conducted the singing and dancing with the help of
R' Dovid Shmuelovitz and the rest of the yeshiva students. His glowing face lit up and shone with supreme radiance. Thus, while dancing, he activated his great physical strength to pull into the circle onlookers who were standing at a distance.
It was the custom in Steibtz, at the climax of the joy in the synagogue, to carry HaRav R' Yehosha Lieberman on the shoulders while shouting hurrah! This was also repeated with R' Shlomo Chari, who shunned honor. He would call out with mockery, irony, and merriment in his Brisk Yiddish dialect these very words: Oy… hoibt mir nor a bissel… That is to say, carry me, lift me just a little! As it were, he enjoyed it and asked us to do it again.
He supported a large family of 8 young children and managed with difficulty, but was always content with his lot. After he was taken away from his family with great cruelty by the Gestapo, his wife, Pessia, went to live with her 8 toddlers at the home of R' Shmuel Yosef and Musha (Batsheva's daughter) Zlatkin. R' Yosef Miskov, (the Chassid), also lived there and several other G-d-fearing Jews. They had a Torah scroll and secretly organized a minyan nearly every day.
It was the 9th day of the month of Av. The men had just read Vayechal and finished praying the afternoon service in the outside room, which faces the yard and can't be seen from the street. And behold!, from within the house, sounds of the weeping of Pessia and her young children, the oldest of whom had not yet turned 15, pierced the quiet. They were bitterly lamenting the abduction of their father, the crown of the family. We, inhabitants of the ghetto, were already petrified and our hearts could not find the strength to weep, nor did our eyes swell up with tears. And behold! The daughters, Shulamit and Rivka, the innocent ones, came and on their faces was spread the nobility of their father, and they succeeded in shedding their tears and sorrow into the skin-bag of tears of lamentation for the 9th day of Av.
Woe to this beauty that will be swallowed up in the dust.
B. HaRav R' Dovid Shmuelovitz
He was a native of Steibtz, son of Shmuel Yosef and Chassiah Leah. He lost his father at a young age. His mother, who earned a living from operating a poor grocery store, made an effort to send Dovid to study in yeshivos, first in Grodno and later in Mir.
He was one of the outstanding pupils whom Maran HaRav R' Yehosha nurtured and brought close to him. Whatever the rabbi said was a commandment in his eyes, and he was ready to give up his life for it. With the re-establishment of the lower-level yeshiva in Steibtz in 5694/1934, the rabbi appointed him Gemara instructor in one of the classes. He would sometimes speak in public. His words were permeated with uncompromising religious fanaticism. He would also speak and preach at the meetings of Tifferet Bachurim in the town. He published articles and feuilletons in the Vilna weekly, Dos Vort.
By nature, he was an amusing person and content with his lot. This found expression especially on the holiday of Sukkot. He restored in Steibtz the tradition of Simchat Beit HaShoeva during the Intermediate Days of the Festival. It was his function to sell chapters of the Songs of Ascent, to distribute verses and honor members of the congregation of Beit HaMidrash on Yurezdikke Street. The singing and dancing would go on until late at night. On Simchat Torah, too, he would distribute the verses of Ata Hareita. As is known, it was the custom in our section to sell Ata Hareita, and the buyer would honor, with the reading of the verses, the important ones among the homeowners and anyone else who so desired. R' Dovid, who served as the distributor of the verses and auctioneer, utilized his skills in an amusingly and entertainingly way and would affix descriptions and exaggerated honors on each person to the delight of the entire congregation, which would accept this with satisfaction and in good spirit because it never happened that he insulted or hurt anyone. During the hakafot, he, together with R' Shlomo Chari, would lead the singing and dancing, and his throat would always get hoarse from too much singing already at the first hakafah on the night of Simchat Torah.
A few years before the outbreak of the Second World War, he married Mina from the family of the late Rebbetzin Michala Lieberman, a native of Shedlitz [Siedlce Poland]. Mina was a charming woman, a teacher at the Beis Yaakov School, and they managed to raise a family before the onset of the Holocaust.
C. HaRav R' Moshe Gitelis
He was a native of Volhyn. He arrived in Steibtz from Mir Yeshiva after marrying Bayla, R' Shlomo Chari's sister. He grew a beard before getting married which did not arouse special attention. It was Aharon Viener, R' Dov Sargovitz's son-in-law, a native of Bitan and a chassid of the Slonim sect, whose appearance in Steibtz, wearing a beard, caused a commotion in the town at the time. It wasn't a widespread phenomenon in Steibtz, a town of misnagdim, to encounter a young man growing a beard.
He was great in his knowledge of Torah, G-d-fearing, and ultra-Orthodox, and was just as scrupulous in performing a ‘minor’ commandment as a major one. He prolonged his praying. He raised a family and barely earned a living. He was a Gemara instructor in an elementary yeshiva and had an affable countenance and a pleasant voice. He excelled in singing Chassidic melodies, and melodies which were widespread in yeshivos. During the hakafot, he sang the melody of the spiritual monitor of the Mir Yeshiva, R' Yerucham Leivovitz, a melody which was saturated with longings and yearning and which reached great spiritual exaltation when he called out Moses is true and his Torah is true!
D. HaRav R' Yaakov Domnitz
He was a native of nearby Horodshits [Horodyszcze now Haradzishcha]. He studied in the elementary yeshiva in Steibtz, when the yeshiva was first established, and later in Mir. He married Miriam, daughter of HaRav R' Yehosha's brother, and they settled in Steibtz. At a young age, his wife lost her father, R' Yaakov Lieberman, who was a ritual slaughterer and meat inspector in Horodshits. When her mother died, her uncle, HaRav R' Yehosha, brought her to Steibtz. R' Yaakov's piety preceded his wisdom. He was very exact in performing commandments between man and G-d, and between man and his fellow man. He was ethical and possessed good qualities, diligent and persistent. He served as a Gemara instructor at the elementary yeshiva in Steibtz, and he barely made a living with his wife and child.
He was healthy, erect, and strong. With the coming of the Soviets in 1939, he worked doing all kinds of temporary and hard jobs, such as loading logs on railroad cars and other such work. At that time, many former yeshiva students and others worked at such jobs, because they were able to observe the Sabbath and not desecrate it.
E. Rabbi Yehudah Leib Stolovitzki
(Leib the Scribe)
|R' Yehudah Leib Stolovitzki|
My grandfather, R' Yehudah Leib, arrived in Steibtz in the middle of the preceding [19th] century from his birthplace, Nesvizh. He was a scribe who excelled in writing Torah scrolls, copying verses from the Torah which are put inside mezzuzos and phylacteries, and also in the work of boxes for phylacteries.
He was knowledgeable in occult wisdom and sometimes also wrote charms. His grandson, Shlomo Levin, who lives in the USA, still has a charm that my grandfather wrote for his son, Chaim Meir when he left Steibtz and wandered to distant places. Sometimes, people turned to him requesting various remedies, and I heard trustworthy evidence of this and a heart-warming description from the president of the State of Israel, Mr. Zalman Shazar, who told me that when he reached the age of bar mitzvah, he would come to my grandfather's house and find him concentrating, with awe and reverence, on writing the verses from the Torah for his phylacteries.
It seems that the scribes' work wasn't enough to support his large family, and he was appointed Shamash in the Great Beit Midrash, a role he held for 50 years. My grandfather died at an old age, a few years before the outbreak of the First World War. Most of his sons and daughters are scattered throughout the big world. His daughter, Masha, married R' Meir Chaitovitz, and two of his sons, Zvi and my honored father Eliakim zl, also became scribes. Zvi was distinguished for his lovely scribe's writing. He lived all his days in Nesvizh writing Torah scrolls. He died on the 15th day of the month of Shvat 5691/1931 and was brought to rest in Steibtz. My father excelled in making simple boxes for phylacteries, and also from one piece of leather. He also replaced his father as shamash in the Great Beit Midrash for 25 years.
Like father like sons. After the death of my father, Eliakim zl, on the 4th day of the month of Tishrei 5690/ 1929, two of his sons, Shlomo and Chaim, hyd, continued in their father's work. My brother, Shlomo, improved the work. He specialized in making fancy boxes for phylacteries from one piece of leather and supplied them mainly to students at the nearby Mir and Kletzk Yeshivas. My brother Chaim helped him.
When we lost our father, my brother Moshe and I, were young children, and our older brothers took care of us. My brother, Chaim, especially excelled, he was like a father to us. He worked diligently on our education together with our mother, Devorah hyd. He was modest, well-mannered, good-hearted, and well-liked by all his acquaintances.
My mother, Devorah, a native of Uzda, perished in the great massacre on the 12th day of Tishrei 5703/ 1942. My brother Shlomo was seized by the Gestapo and killed by them in the month of Tammuz, 5701/1941. My two brothers, Chaim and Moshe, perished in the last slaughter of the remaining ghetto inhabitants on the 25th day of Shvat 5703/1943.
G-d will avenge their blood.
F. Rabbi Moshe Melamed
A native of nearby Nesvizh, he arrived in Steibtz in the second half of the previous century. He made a living with his family from a small grocery store managed by his wife, Zviah. He devoted all his time to studies and was diligent all his life studying Torah. He studied incessantly literally. Many years later, when he suffered from impaired vision, he continued to study by heart, since he was an expert in the Six Orders of the Mishna and Gemara, several orders of which he knew fluently.
He isolated himself from society and was immersed in his inner spiritual world. Apart from the light sleep which he grabbed during the day, he devoted most of his time to studying
|R' Moshe Melamed|
the Torah, partly at home and mostly in Beit HaMidrash; he sometimes had pupils, among them were Mordechai Moltchadsky and Yaakov Meir son of Shmuel Tunik. The latter, being a ritual slaughterer, mainly studied Tractate Chulin. These pupils read the Gemara aloud in the rabbi's presence and he would explain the subject to them.
As he was hard of hearing, he would leave his permanent place on the north side of the Great Beit Midrash during the reading of the Torah and move closer to the pulpit and so we saw him standing on his feet for a long time, leaning on the stender, listening attentively. He knew the prayers for the entire year by heart, except for the musafim for the Days of Awe. Then he would go over to one of the worshippers and repeat the musaf prayer after him word for word. For several years he was aided by R' Leib Meir Reiser, and later by his grandson, Aharon Melamed.
As one who sat diligently studying Torah and performing the service in the synagogue all year long, he saw to it to make a siyoom masechet on the Eve of Passover in the Great Beit Midrash, and he brought his liquor and sweet light refreshments, and treat the first-born sons to these snacks. Many of the town's residents would ask him for a special cure for a sick person, and he fulfilled each one's request. He withdrew to the corner and his lips uttered some kind of silent prayer.
When I saw him in his old age, his walking impaired and very weak, he chose to live in the vicinity of Betei HaMidrash: at the home of Osnat Rachel Germiza on Shulhoif Street, and afterward at the home of Eliyahu Hendel Filshtzik opposite Beit HaMidrash in the Yurzdikke neighborhood.
When his wife, Tzvia, died, he married Miriam, a native of Humen [Chervyen], in a second marriage. She was a modest and G-d-fearing woman who took devoted care of him. When his second wife died, his daughter, Sara Devorah, wife of Zimel Chaitovitz, in whose house he lived, provided for him in his old age, thereby carrying out the commandment to honor one's mother and father properly. His son, Benyamin, passed away in the prime of life, leaving behind a widow and small orphans.
Rabbi Moshe passed the age of eighty and perished in the first massacre on the 12th day of Tishrei 5703/1942.
G-d will avenge his blood.
G. Rabbi Yosef Miskov
He was a native of Brisk de-Lita [Lithuania] and arrived in Steibtz after his marriage to Raizel, daughter of R' Avraham Dabruliah. He was called the Chassid by all, and truly, his name suited him well because, apart from being a chassid in the manner of the Chassidim of Slonim, he would seek an opportunity to perform commandments. He barely earned a living and his sustenance came mainly from the sale of religious articles such as prayer shawls, esrogim, writing prayer books and other sacred books. He supplemented his income by renting out rooms in his house to tenants. He devoted most of his time to the needs of the community and matters of a mitzvah.
If an emissary of a certain yeshiva or a preacher came to the town, and he had difficulty in enlisting two walkers, that is to say, two influential members of the synagogue, who would volunteer to go out with him to collect donations from the public, R' Yosef took on the burden and visited the town's houses with the emissary. He would set up the eiruv within the boundaries of the town so that one would be permitted to carry the most necessary things on the Sabbath, and he bore the responsibility for completing the eiruv without having any helpers. Sometimes he would be aided by his brother, Avraham Sodovski, or by someone from the yeshiva who was staying in the town.
The wires for the eiruv were set up at the boundary of the Christian neighborhood, and not once were torn down maliciously by the Gentiles, and sometimes were damaged by a wind storm or a blizzard. If by chance, he didn't manage to repair the eiruv before the onset of the Sabbath, or if some mishap occurred right on Sabbath eve, he would then run to each Beit Midrash to inform everyone about the damage done to the eiruv. The congregation was naturally surprised by the beadle's announcement at the pulpit: You mustn't carry! and they would leave their prayer shawls in Beit HaMidrash.
Although he was an outstanding chassid, he had a lot in common and was a loyal follower of Maran HaRav R' Yehosha Lieberman the misnagid, and a man of the Mussar movement. When the rabbi founded religious educational institutions and established their spiritual and public status, R' Yosef looked after their material existence. He would collect the weekly donations (Vachar) on behalf of the Talmud Torah. When they began to build Beis Yaakov school, in the Yurzezdikke neighborhood, he lent a hand to bear the burden together with other public figures. A few years later, he was the driving force in carrying out the plan to add a floor to the Talmud Torah building in the synagogue yard. He likewise took care of providing food for the pupils of the elementary yeshiva from the adjacent towns Rubezhevitz, Derevna, and Ivnitz. He set days on which they would have their meals at the table of important members of the congregation.
R' Yosef was the peg around whom the few Chassidim in the town centered- Chassidim of both the Slonim and Koidonov sects. For many years, the minyan was held in his house on the Sabbath, and they also had their third Sabbath meal in his house. Whenever the Admor of Toporov, ztzl, son-in-law of the Admor R' Aharon of Koidonov, zl, visited Steibtz he stayed at R' Yosef's home, where he would pray and have his meals. The house then filled up with a multitude of people, Chassidim, and Misnagdim.
Following the example of R' Yehoshua's house, R' Yosef's house also served as a meeting place for Tifferet Bachurim club and was always wide open for the yeshiva students in the town. R' Yosef had a pleasant disposition. He dealt calmly with others. He also did a great thing on the verge of the Holocaust, when the Soviets nationalized the Jewish bathhouse on the Synagogue Yard and the ritual bath. In the course of searches for a building place and difficulties in making a decision, it was decided to build the ritual bath in the cemetery, on the road to the village of Zayamnaye, in the small house near the fence. They decided on this place as a last resort. They were sure the authorities would not harm it. The initiator and driving force behind this modest undertaking was R' Yosef Miskov.
Proper Jewish women disregarded their natural fear and did not avoid going to this place of purity. You are distinguished mothers! You, who kept the spark from extinguishing, how you fell into the hands of the defiled on the day of wrath and fury!
H. HaRav R' Yeshayahu Borishanski
A native of Uzda, son of R' Michael and Chaya Gittel arrived in Steibtz with his family at the end of the First World War. His father, a teacher, didn't manage to teach in Steibtz for long because he died several years after coming to the town.
HaRav R' Yeshayahu, received his initial education from his father, and, while still a youngster, went off to a place of Torah, first to Baronovitz, where he studied Torah under the tutelage of the Gaon R' Elchanon Bunim Wasserman, ztzl, hyd, and a few years later transferred to the Yeshiva Eitz HaChaim in Kletzk, where he was the student of the head of the yeshiva, HaGaon R' Aharon Kotler ztzl.
He quickly acquired a reputation of a prodigy and Yeshayahu from Stoybtzar became one of the select students of whom the heads and administration were very proud. Many boys were influenced by him and, in his footsteps, another dozen yeshiva students left Steibtz to study in Kletzk. Yeshayahu was faithful support for them in the upper-level yeshiva. He especially nurtured the young son of his sister Tzippa, Zalman Feiboshevitz, today HaRav Zalman HaLevi Ori, in the United States. He helped him spiritually and materially and maintained contact with him also in the first years of the war when one lived in Vilna and the other in Riga. From the time he was 13 years old, R' Yeshayahu was blessed with talents, having a sharp mind, and was a diligent innovator of Torah, honest and great G-d-fearing. He didn't stop studying, even during the vacations between terms. He would come home from nearby Kletzk to visit his elderly mother once a year, and even then, just for a day or two before Passover.
He was well-loved within the circle of his highly respected family and esteemed by his friends and students at the yeshiva in the town. He abounded in cheerfulness and good-heartedness. There was always a smile on his lips and it moved to and fro whenever he spoke. His everyday speech needed improvement. Maran R' Yehosha, who was very proud of him, treated him with special fondness.
A lot of the Borishanski family did not improve in Steibtz. The father of the family died a few years after their arrival to the town, and a short while after, their daughter Henia, mother of Izik Berkovitz, passed away in the prime of life. A few years later, their son Mordechai, a ritual slaughterer and meat inspector died in his early manhood. When HaRav Yehosha eulogized the deceased, he compared the mother of the family, Chaya Gittel, to Naomi, who came to live in the fields of Moab, where she lost her husband and two sons. The rabbi ended his eulogy with words of consolation: Just as Naomi was privileged to have King David come from her offspring, so, too, would the mother of the deceased be privileged to have her son become a prince and a great person among the Jewish people, alluding in this way to R' Yeshayahu.
About a year before the outbreak of the Second World War, R' Yeshayahu married the daughter of HaRav HaGaon R' Yoel Baranchik, ztzl, hyd, the outstanding pupil of the Alter of Novardok, who served for a certain time as a spiritual monitor at the Kletzk Yeshiva, and was the founder of the seminary for religious teachers in Grodno and other places.
He moved into the home of his father-in-law in Riga, Latvia, where he continued to be diligent in studying Torah and taking part in the religious service. His teacher and rabbi, HaGaon R' Aharon Kotler ztzl, was present at his wedding which took place in Riga. R' Kotler sang the praises of the select of his pupils and described him as a future genius who would light up the skies of Latvia. But, alas! The woodcutter, who rose against the Jewish people in Europe, hewed down this pleasant sapling as well. He perished in the Riga ghetto together with his wife, his young son, and his father-in-law.
by Getzel Reiser
Translated by Harvey Spitzer zl
A person's good deeds are the typical memorial to his memory.
Itche Margolin was a dear person of this kind in our small town, and very often, when the residents of our small town get together and recall forgotten things, his image floats and rises before us, and we remember his sons and daughters, all of whom live abroad.
Itche Margolin was pleasant in his ways, charming, polite, always sober, straight-forward, and liked every activity that had anything to do with the needs of the community.
According to his conception of the world, he was simple and a man of the people, well-liked, and was a man of synthesis who recoiled from the idea that the Movement of the Rebirth [the Renaissance] would be divided: religion apart and the Movement of Revival apart. By nature he liked completeness and in a vision saw his children growing up as loyal sons for the creation of the nation for the people and for the country.
He was engaged in the forestry business and was involved with people, but was also a learned man and he respected rabbis. From the time of his youth he was rooted in the tradition of our forefathers.
I knew Itche Margolin quite well and always observed his way of life, the manner in which he educated his sons, and the way he instilled in them the spirit of Judaism and love for the Hebrew language.
Itche Margolin saw with concern the danger that was lying in wait for the young generation educated in a foreign culture. For that reason he gave his sons a modern education
imbued with the beauty of Yefet but, as stated, the education they received was, according to his synthesis approach, a harmonic blend of Judaism and humanity.
He was a merchant a person engaged in worldly affairs and did not devote all his time to study. His eyes were open to everything going on around him, and he especially understood the spirit of the new period very well.
Itche Margolin was a man of fine taste, a spiritual Istinis, and was involved in the needs of the community. He did not pursue honor. He bequeathed this characteristic quality to his children as well.
He loved the Land of Israel passionately. He stood out in simplicity of thought and fidelity of heart. He was fond of saying, The Holy One Blessed Be He did not create the world for chaos; man was created in the world in order to benefit his fellow man.
Itche the merchant possessed a mixture of preserved old and effervescent new. Something of that nature may be found in the character of his daughters and his two sons: Ze'ev and Boris.
Boris Margolin excels in his activity on behalf of the public. After arriving penniless in America in 1923, he became very successful, accumulating considerable wealth, but his strong economic position opened up new horizons before him to help through actual deeds the realization of his vision which he carried in his soul.
He generously supports many causes, and is one of the mainstays on which the existence of important cultural institutions in America depends. These include the Hebrew weekly Hadoar, the Histadruth Ivrith of which he formerly served as president, the synagogue and a Hebrew school in his place of residence. He likewise assists Hebrew writers in America in financing the publication of their works.
As a devoted and active Zionist, even while still a youth in Steibtz, he strengthened his Zionist activity with increased force when he arrived in America. He dedicated much of his strength and capital in building the Land of Israel and its security.
However, the crowning achievement of his work in the Land of Israel serves as his great educational undertaking: the technological center next to the high school in Be'er Sheva. The aim of this center: to aid in the development of the Negev Desert; to help the youth of this extensive area (most of whom are children of the newest wave of immigration) to acquire technological professions and at the same time imbuing them with Jewish values, thus reaching a blend of material and spirit, old and new.
This enterprise is in its beginning stages and Boris Margolin often visits the country to move it ahead.
As a token of appreciation, the municipality of Be'er Sheva has awarded him with honorary citizenship.
by M. Machtei
Translated by Harvey Spitzer zl
Hillel Akon inherited two things from his father, Simcha Zalman: the carpentry craft and the aspiration to be a prayer leader. Like his father, he too was a gabbai on the holiday of Simchat Torah and a prayer leader on the Sabbaths in the new Beit Midrash, and was a carpenter in his youth. He mostly made windows and doors, but during the First World War, he gave up carpentry and specialized in planning and building flour mills, and would often travel for that purpose. He sent his sons to Minsk to attend government schools there.
When Steibtz was annexed to Soviet White Russia, he was forced to leave the planning of flour mills and return to carpentry as a member of a carpentry cooperative. Since Sunday was the official day of rest, he, and his carpenter friends, had to work on the Sabbath, so he also withdrew from the reader stand and stopped being a cantor. As a Sabbath desecrator, even under compulsion, he said that he was forbidden to lead the prayer service, and his heart was full of sorrow on account of that.
At the end of 1940, the communists decided to confiscate the synagogues. The chairman of the carpenters' cooperative (the communist Veintraub, who was expelled from the country [pre-State Israel] by the Mandate government), called a meeting of the members of the cooperative, at which he raised the question of the confiscation of the synagogues. When he turned to me and asked that I speak in favor of the proposal (I was then the accountant of the cooperative), I said: I can agree to this on the condition that churches be closed as well. And when he turned to Hillel Akon, the senior member of the group, and asked him to state his opinion, he answered in these very words: What do you want? Isn't it enough that you're forcing me to desecrate the Sabbath? Do you also want me to deny everything dear to me! and left the meeting.
by M. Machtei
Translated by Harvey Spitzer zl
Shlomo Yosef the shoemaker was an amiable Jew, a sociable man who always had a smile on his face. But his economical situation was weak and his source of income was not profitable. He had a sweet and pleasant voice and would often serve as a cantor on the Sabbaths. He was very familiar with the sayings of our Sages of Blessed Memory, with which he would spice his conversations. Between the late afternoon and early evening prayer services, he would join the table of those studying Ein Yaakov or mishnayot and take part in questions and answers.
It was evident that this lesson sweetened his great suffering. When Chana, his youngest daughter, desired to study in high school, he made a special effort to enable her to do so.
He was granted the right to pass away before the Holocaust.
His daughter left the town before the Nazi invasion and arrived in the Land of Israel.
(Sketches for the portrait of the teacher,
Alter Yosselevitz - of blessed memory)
by Dov Ben-Yerucham
Translated by Harvey Spitzer zl
At the very start of progressive Hebrew education in our town, several young teachers, imbued with the spirit of revival, were active in it. Prominent among them was the dynamic image of Alter Yosselevitz, thanks to whose efforts a young generation possessing nationalistic ideals was educated.
Alter Yosselevitz appeared in our town at the beginning of the present (20th) century, and as soon as he came, he obtained excellent results.
There was some contrast between him and a melamed of the old cheder, and the children of our town enjoyed the endearing teacher who imparted his words in a voice so quiet and clear, which captivated their heart.
The personal life of the teacher Alter Yosselevitz could serve as a canvas for an extensive story not because the events of his life were so interesting, but rather because the man was absorbed and imbued - with all his soul - with the vision of rebirth.
What were the façade of our town and the life of the Jews in it like in the previous century and somewhat at the beginning of the present (20th century)? Many Jews began streaming into our small town from adjacent small towns, among who were some educated people who were troubled by the question of education of the young generation.
New faces appeared on the public stage and religious education slowly began to lose its hegemony because people appeared who demanded changes and a new approach to problems of education, and it was as if the expression of this struggle which stirred itself for revival was found in the personality of Alter Yosselevitz.
And it was not so easy. The rabbis and gabbays were still in full control of the town, and the public's work in the life of the community was mainly expressed in the selection of rabbis, gabbays and burial society directors. There was no yeshiva in Steibtz itself, but there were large yeshivas, such as Mir and Volozhin, in the surrounding areas, which influenced the thoughts and opinions in our small town.
The following incident can serve as an example of the way of life in Steibtz:
Mr. Yitzchak Berger a speaker who belonged to the Enlightenment movement from Minsk came to Steibtz (his children live in Israel, one of whom was a member of the Knesset, Herzl Berger, of blessed memory). According to the instructions of the town rabbi, Mr. Berger was not allowed to deliver a speech in the synagogue, and Shaul, the public bath attendant, was the leader of those who objected. He shouted that they should not let him speak. One of the public figures from Steibtz begged for mercy and actually pleaded: The man is an important speaker who has come from far, from Minsk. Nothing was to any avail, however, until the chairman used a successful tactic and knocked on the prayer leader's stand and said: How will you dare not permit an important owner of a three-story building on Zacharovsky Street in Minsk to speak? The objectors immediately kept quiet and the speaker captivated the audience's heart with his interesting talk. At that time, Alter Yosselevitz had come from a small town, Lubtch, and was then a yeshiva student who was caught up with the Enlightenment and Zionism.
At that same period, the rabbis were opposed to Zionism and still had great influence. Children of wealthy families were drawn to assimilation, Russian influence and aspired to become a doctor, an engineer and to integrate into Russian society. The Bund struck roots and succeeded in drawing to its side, children of workers and craftsmen. Yosselevitz the teacher told me he was severely beaten when he began teaching the Bible in Hebrew.
Education in our small town was in the hands of the melamdim in the cheders where, according to the well-known system of selection, children of important people studied separately from children of craftsmen. School was in session from morning to evening. During the long winter nights, the children returned home with lanterns in their hands.
Yosselevitz the Teacher established the first modern Hebrew school in our town and introduced various improvements.
One of his innovations was that he accepted children regardless of their origin and social status, for From children of the poor, Torah will go forth.
Several chapters of the public-social and nationalistic development of our town are connected with the name of Alter Yosselevitz.
Alter Yosselevitz founded the first youth movement, called Bnot Zion (Daughters of Zion) in our town.
It is very strange that the first youth movement in our town was called Daughters of Zion and not Sons of Zion, and one explanation of this matter is to be found in an interesting psychoanalytic reason.
In the small towns in our area, the parties and youth movements were successful if they managed to attract individuals with skills and influence. A youth movement developed if the pretty girls in the town joined the movement, and then the movement was assured of the participation of the other gender. The Pirchei Zion and Poalei Zion and other parties branched out from the youth clubs of the movements. The activity of the Keren Kayemet was also connected to the name of Alter Yosselevitz as he was the main public worker of the Keren Kayemet who was concerned with distributing JNF charity boxes in every house and with collecting money for the redemption of the land.
In his pedagogical work which went on for dozens of years, Alter Yosselevitz worked hard, together with other teachers, to create the special atmosphere for the absorption of the ideas and aspirations of the revival.
Alter Yosselevitz's life events are tightly connected to the life of our small town.
During the First World War, the front came close to our town and all men in their forties were enlisted. Every so often, reports of casualties among the residents of our town reached us.
In 1915 the big fire broke out in our town. The fire came from the west, from Eli Yona Kitivitz's sawmill. A strong wind was raging. Most of the houses of the Jewish settlement were completely burned down. Firefighters who arrived from surrounding towns could not gain control of the terrible fire. Many of the Jews of Steibtz left and moved to Minsk and to far-off Russia. Fear overtook the remaining few in the town when refugees began arriving from Poland and the environs of Baranovicz and Brisk. In those hectic times of flight and wandering from place to place, the Jews of Steibtz welcomed the refugees and offered them help. Yosselevitz and his family moved to Minsk. He had connections with the best of the intellectual community
of Minsk in those days and his house was a meeting place for activists.
Literary evenings, readings and also various debates about Hebrew vs. Yiddish, the fate of the Land of Israel, the question of where Russia was headed took place in his house. When the Yiddishists would prove that Mendele and Shalom Aleichem were more original in Yiddish, Yosselevitz would open Shalom Aleichem's story Mottel Peysi dem Chazans, which he read with enthusiasm and with lovely declamation in Hebrew, and say, Granted it's in Hebrew, but doesn't it sound as nice as in Yiddish?
Public activity in Steibtz fell silent during World War One. Many people left our small town fearing pogroms when the Cossacks passed through. Bombings and the roaring of canons were heard in the town. The war front was near Turetz and Baranovicz.
Spring arrived. The revolution broke out. Days of hope and expectation came when most of the young people, especially those from important families, became enthusiastic about the revolution, and many even enlisted in the Red Army and in the communist movement. Voleh and Shaya Rozovski. Leibl Neifeld, Grontze Kanterovitz, Yankel and Shalom Reichman volunteered to serve in the Red Army, but the Bund spoke up against it. Chaim Dvoretzky celebrated his victory and the Yiddish school in memory of Medem was founded. A large library as well as a Yiddish theatre were opened. Zissel Dvoretzky, Chatshe (Dudu) Roditsky, Voleh Rozovski and Dovid Kumak performed with great talent. The Zionist movement in Steibtz was then on the decline. The Poalei Zion party died out. Youth movements no longer existed.
Although there was a Zionist awakening on the Jewish street as a result of the Balfour Declaration, and a pioneering emigration also began to the Land of Israel, in Stoibtz however, there was no leader, teacher or guide. And suddenly, in 1921, Alter Yosselevitz came to Stoibtz, fresh, and full of energy, with an enthusiasm for activity, that he approached with devotion.
His first activity was the establishment of the Tarbut School, while Talmud Torah was still in the hands of those who preferred Yiddish as the language of instruction, and the battle between the two camps was fierce.
And here was something which characterized the Jews of Steibtz. Residents from all levels of society joined that battle and of all people, Orthodox Jews and supporters of Rabbi Lieberman, were among those who fought on behalf of the Tarbut School. I remember my father, a follower of Rabbi Lieberman, saying that he was ready for a bloody battle, which was due to the personal influence of Alter Yosselevitz.
Cultural life in our small town started to blossom profusely with the establishment of the Tarbut School, and with the arrival of Yosselevitz widespread and diverse activity got under way. There were parties on Chanukah, Purim, 11th of Adar, Lag BaOmer, 20th of Tamuz; fund raising for the Keren Kayemet and the Keren HaYesod. Speakers began arriving in Steibtz, among whom were cultural activists who would bring new poems and it was pleasant to take part in these poetry evenings, and Yosselevitz's face then shone with joy.
One of the radiant speakers who came for a visit to Steibtz was Zalman Rubashov (Shazar).
A rumor spread in the town that a certain doctor, a native of Steibtz, would speak. The meeting took place in the synagogue, which was completely filled. With the fervor of youth and with special pathos, Zalman described the situation of the Land of Israel. Attention was drawn to the many hopes dependent on the Balfour Declaration. Only one person tried to interrupt, and that was Dr. Sirkin, who asked. How will you establish a Jewish State when the British are there? In reply, Zalman Shazar told about the work of the Jewish pioneers- work which was stronger than the British cannons. I remember when Zalman walked on the hill next to the Russian Orthodox Church and looked over the town of Steibtz, the place of his childhood. What he was thinking about then was hard to guess: childhood, parents, and beginnings in Pirchei Zion, Poalei Zion, meetings, and debates. I didn't want to disturb his thoughts. I stood there for about a half an hour and didn't dare go over to him, although I wanted to clarify some questions about my going to live in the Land of Israel.
What is your opinion, Comrade Zalman? Will I be able to manage in some cooperative? I asked him. And Zalman replied, Why a cooperative of all things? Maybe a kibbutz, moshav or factory is more appealing to you. First you have to go the Land of Israel and then you can think about what to do. During our conversation, he said to me; Do you know why I'm wandering here between the hills? -- Because Rabbi Leib Ahar'eh once lived around here and I wanted to meet his daughters. They were once with me in Pirchei Zion and I accompanied him to Rabbi Ahar'eh's daughters' home.
Yosselevitz the Teacher met with Zalman Shazar-Rubashov after they had not seen each other for many years. Zalman had already managed to be in the big, wide world.
The two of them met: one was one of the leaders of a world-wide movement, and the other, a local leader, but they had a common past. Behind closed doors, a debate about Yiddish vs. Hebrew, work in the Diaspora, matters pertaining to the Land of Israel, nationalism and socialism went on between them throughout the night.
Although Yosselevitz was from proletarian origin, he had a General Zionist world outlook. He would say; You want socialism, but it's time is not precisely now. There must first be a concentration of Jews in the Land of their Forefathers, and when we have our Hebrew State, you will be like all the nations - each one according to his position and world outlook.
I was enthralled with Yosselevitz's faithfulness to his idea. Through his way of education, he raised an entire generation of our small town which was already drawn to Zionism - Weren't most of the people from Steibtz who went to live in the Land of Israel influenced by him?
Zalman was a follower of Borochov and he explained proletarian Zionism according to Borochov's outlook.
When Zalman came on a visit to Steibtz, all the Zionist parties revived. The Tarbut School was a workshop for young people, including the youth of Poalei Zion, the Kochav HaNotzetz led by Hirshel Kumak and Issar Rabinovitz, HaShomer HaTzair, Hitachdut, Gordonia, a sports movement directed by Yosef Machtei, Hechalutz, WIZO and General Zionists, etc. etc.
Steibtz became a Zionist town with elections for the Zionist Congresses. Steibtz stood out in selling shekels in relatively greater proportion to the other small towns in the surroundings. The library received a content of Hebrew books.
And new emigration to our country began. When I left Steibtz and said goodbye to my teacher, he asked me to meet with one of his friends from Minsk living in the Land of Israel, to send his regards to Dr. Shapira. In 1921 I met with Dr. Shapira at Hadassah Hospital
in Tel Aviv. He was very interested in Yosselevitz's life.
Yosselevitz was not privileged to see the Land of Israel. He dedicated his soul to the Zionist enterprise for 50 years. During the destruction of Jewish Steibtz, he hid in a pit for several days, but the Germans found him and he met his death there singing Hatikvah. Yosselevitz, the praiseworthy teacher, did not have the privilege of seeing his sons and daughter realizing his life's undertaking with complete faithfulness.
by Rabbi Zalman HaLevi Ori (Fibushuvitz), Los Angeles, USA
Translated by Harvey Spitzer zl
Tishrei, 5699/1939. Hitler's bloody march had already begun and Poland was occupied in a few days. The country was divided between the Germans and the Russians. Steibtz was located in the area that passed into the hands of the Soviets. Life is gloomy, people walk around filled with distress and worry. No one knows what the day will bring.
Saturday night in our house, the family is sitting at the table eating the melaveh malka meal. Silence prevails in our house. Even my younger brothers and sisters and I, the eldest, was then 15 years old aren't talking or disturbing. They, too, feel that something heavy is weighing on the heart and suffocating the throat. This is my last night in our home. I'm about to take the walking stick in my hand, like a faithful Jew, and wander off to a place of Torah. I'm about to fulfill the commandment. Go forth from your country, from your birthplace, and your father's house.
I was then a student at the Etz Chaim Yeshiva in Kletzk. (The head of the yeshiva was the famous Etz Chaim, Rabbi Rav Aharon Kotler May the memory of the righteous and holy ones be blessed! founder of the Lakewood Yeshiva in the United States. He died there and was laid to rest in the holy city of Jerusalem.) When the communists occupied our town, everyone knew that our fate would be bad and bitter because they would not allow us to continue studying the Torah.
But, an interesting thing happened: the Soviets, of all people, opened a door of salvation for us in the sense of the expression a blessing in disguise. They announced that they would return Vilna to the State of Lithuania, which had considered Vilna as its capital since time immemorial. Lithuania was then still a free and independent country, and many yeshivas and various religious and cultural institutions were found there. The yeshivot students decided to move to Vilna, and I was among them.
My suitcase is already packed. My mother zl, prepares a package of food for me, made with her own hands She holds back and stops her tears, and I hold back, too. I'm ashamed to cry. I'm finally a mature Jew, wandering and studying the Torah. How can I cry?
My father zl, turns to me before we recite the grace after meals, and says: Go, my son, go to Vilna. G-d alone knows what will happen to my sons who remain here. I want to have at least one proper Kaddish. A kind of prophecy was elicited from my father Avraham's mouth May G-d avenge his blood! as though his heart predicted that I would be the only brand plucked out of the fire, the only one from the family. This was our last night together, and I didn't know it.
After saying goodbye to my mother, brothers, and sisters, I traveled with my father to the home of Moltchadski the printer. His son Yaakov, who studied at Kaminetz Yeshivas, and later in Mir, traveled to Vilna with me.
My father accompanied us as far as Baranovicz. We arrived at the railway station in Baranovicz before dawn. The train was packed with people and it was simply impossible to enter. My father pushed us on through the window and we stood crowded to Vilna.
I will never forget that dark morning. The sky grew dark with clouds, and a driving rain started coming down. It was the kind of rain that falls drop by drop for a few minutes, and then penetrates your soul itself until you feel wretched and all alone in the world, and then it seems to you that the sky is also crying with you and that the Divine Presence is, as it were, sharing in your distress, and you almost hear His voice cooing like a dove My head is too heavy for me, my arm is too heavy for me.
I glanced at my father, who was waiting for the train to move, and I saw him… crying, and that was the first, and also the last time. I saw my father crying. - - -
by Rabbi Zalman HaLevi Ori (Fibushuvitz), Los Angeles, USA
Translated by Harvey Spitzer zl
This happened on the Day of Atonement in the year 5698/1937. The synagogue (in the building of Beis Yaakov school) was filled with men, women, and children. A holy atmosphere filled the house of prayer.
Suddenly I heard a shout. A twelve-year-old girl, fasting for the first time, had fainted. She was a pale and sickly girl (to my sorrow, I don't remember her name). The rabbi, Yehoshua Lieberman May G-d avenge his blood! asked Dr. Sirkin, who was praying with us, to examine the sick girl and to tell him whether she had the strength to continue her fast.
The doctor said in jest: When I am to myself, I say that there's no need to fast at all. Rabbi Lieberman, who was a great genius and a perfectly righteous man, reacted immediately and his voice was heard throughout the synagogue: I'll be the one to tell whether one should fast or not fast; you just tell me whether they can or can't.
The rabbi's words made an indelible impression on me and they still resound in my ears. This incident taught me more than a hundred lessons about the role and authority of a Jewish rabbi.
Steibtz was a small town, but its rabbis were among the greatest Jews, and Rabbi Yehoshua Lieberman May the memory of the righteous and the holy be a blessing! was one of them. When he was executed by the Nazis, together with his community, he wrapped himself in his prayer shawl and recited the Shema. He was a faithful community leader in his life and death. May his memory be blessed! - - -
by Mordechai Machtei
Translated by Harvey Spitzer zl
Regarding its rabbis, the community of Steibtz was not lucky from the time it was founded until the beginning of the 20th century. Not because the rabbis were not deserving of their rank, G-d forbid, but, on the contrary, due to their fame and honor, they did not prolong their serving in the position of town rabbi in Steibtz Isaac Berkovitz a position, which continued for only a short time, because they were taken away, for the sake of honor, to larger communities. And, this is the reason, that until 1904 a grave was not dug for a rabbi in Steibtz. And if it weren't for the sudden death of HaRav A. Y. Maskil L'Eitan (father-in-law of Chief Rabbi of Petach Tikvah, HaRav R' Reuven Katz, ztzl) in that same year Isaac Berkovitz he, too, would have been taken the honor to another community, because he was one of the greatest rabbis of his generation.
Until the year 5609/1848, the year my father zl was born, there were no registrations, or, as they were called ledgers Isaac Berkovitz so that nothing at all is known about the nature of the rabbis. In his days, there were four rabbis, who moved from Steibtz to other cities and were even called by the people by the name of their tenure in the new communities: R' Tuvia, or R' Dovid Tevli Minsker, author of the book Beit David, R' Shmuel, known for the name of his book Mesharet Moshe, or, as he was called Isaac Berkovitz the Rabbi of Mezritch. R' Meir-Noah Levin, called the Muscovite, was accepted, after his expulsion from Moscow, as preacher and posek in Vilna; R' Shlomo Mordechai Brodni (grandfather of the late Bar-Eli, Director of Bank Hapoalim), who, in his old age, resigned from the rabbinate and returned to his birthplace, Smorgon.
As aforementioned, Mesharet Moshe was taken from Steibtz to serve as rabbi in the community of Mezritch. During his tenure there, the question of an agunah was on the agenda, whom the previous rabbi and the judges were unable to release from being chained, and the unfortunate woman struggled hard with this problem. The matter was as follows: one day, a Jewish prisoner, escorted by a Russian policeman, entered [the office of] the Rabbi of Brisk and said, Rabbi, I am a prisoner and I am being taken too hard labor in Siberia. Who knows if I'll return. Therefore, please arrange a bill of divorce for my wife. In reply to the rabbi's question, Who is she? he answered that his wife's name was Sarah and that he didn't remember her father's name, but he thought it might be Yitzchak. The guards went off with the prisoner.
When the matter was transferred to the rabbinate in Mezritch, it became clear that the woman's father's name was not Yitzchak but rather Yaakov. The rabbi did not arrange the divorce and the woman remained an agunah. HaRav R' Shmuel, author of Mesharet Moshe, looked into the matter, decided to arrange a bill of divorce for her, and ordered that two bills of divorce be written Isaac Berkovitz one in the name Sarah daughter of Yitzchak, and one in the name Sarah daughter of Yaakov.
R' Yitzchak Meir, known for his book Chidushei Harim and possessing the highest level of ordination in Poland was serving as rabbi in Warsaw at that time. When the aforementioned matter became known to him, he said that the Rabbi of Mezritch had [incorrectly] released a married woman.
When the news reached R' Shmuel, he traveled to R' Yitzchak Meir [in Warsaw] to explain his reasoning to him, but the latter refused to receive him (as a rabbi who released a married woman). R' Shmuel returned home and put his words in writing: he recorded his arguments and his references for his rulings and sent it to [the author of] Chidushei Harim. When the latter received this composition, he studied it and declared: I didn't know that there is such a great Jewish rabbi in Mezritch. This woman is permitted to remarry and I am ready to perform the marriage ceremony.
B. The Last Rabbi
HaRav R' Yehoshua Lieberman ztzl, was born in the year 1883 to his father, R' Shlomo, the ritual slaughterer and meat inspector of Steibtz. Like all the boys of his age, he received a religious education, and from the time he was13 or 14, he wandered to places of study to Mir Yeshiva, and later to Slobodka Yeshiva, near Kovna [Kaunas]. He didn't aspire to be a ritual slaughterer and meat inspector, but, first and foremost, he sought to deepen his knowledge in the Talmud, and remained at the Slobodka Yeshiva until his marriage with the daughter of one of the rabbis of Shedlitz [Siedlce] in the Warsaw District. It was said about him that he was one of the best students. After his marriage, he gave lessons in the Talmud at the small yeshiva.
His father died at the end of 1917, but left the position of ritual slaughterer to his younger brother, HaRav R' Meir Lieberman, who is now in the United States.
At that time, Steibtz remained without a rabbi. In 1915, HaRav R' Yoel Sorotzkin (brother of HaRav R' Zalman Sorotzkin Isaac Berkovitz May he lives a long life!), was exiled to the city of Saratov in Russia, from there he moved to Moscow during the revolution and didn't return to Steibtz. When R' Shlomo, a ritual slaughterer, and meat inspector, died, there was no rabbi in Steibtz. The Chazon Ish, who was living in Steibtz at that time, did not want to accept the position of town rabbi. No rabbi, of high standards, wanted to accept the position of town rabbi, since R' Sorotzkin had remarked that he was not giving up his right to be town rabbi of Steibtz. Some of R' Yehoshua Lieberman's relatives rabbi and seated him in the rabbi's place in the Great Beit Midrash.
Then, the town was divided into two camps. His opponents could not come to terms with the idea that a town resident, whom everyone knew since his childhood, would be their rabbi and, besides, he hadn't served as a rabbi anywhere. Several years went by, and despite the many appeals they repeatedly made to R' Sorotzkin, asking him to return to Steibtz, he did not fulfill the community's request.
In October 1920, Steibtz remained within the borders of the Republic of Poland. HaRav Sorotzkin did not take advantage of his right to return to Steibtz during the year 1921 and stayed in Moscow. R' Lieberman's opponents wanted to bring in a new rabbi, but none of the important rabbis agreed to accept the position as long as there was a chance of a dispute over the rabbinate, and thus R' Yehoshua remained the only rabbi.
He inherited hatred of Zionism and obstinacy from his father and Slobovka
Yeshiva brought extreme fanaticism (he didn't even belong to Agudas Yisrael because he considered it too liberal). Besides that, he lacked flexibility. Were it not for these traits, the circle of his opponents would have kept on diminishing and, over time, would have not protested about him, but Steibtz was a town where most of the residents were Zionists, and against this background, there were many conflicts. The quarrels became more and more intense when the teacher, Alter (Yitzchak) Yoselevitz, returned from the Soviet Union in 1922, (father of Aminadav and Avner Yisraeli and Hemda HaLevi). In the beginning, R' Yehoshua agreed that the teacher would open a Tarbut school. No doubt he thought that he would set the tone of the school, but when he realized that the school did not have a religious character, that instead of Chumash, they learned Bible stories, instead of commentary by Rashi, they learned Prophets and Scriptures with commentary by Gordon and, in addition, there was a Zionist branch in the school Isaac Berkovitz the rabbi started a war against the school, and thus increased the camp of his opponents, which included nearly all the Zionists.
In 1930, HaRav Sorotzkin received an exit permit from the USSR and returned to Steibtz. With the support of R' Lieberman's opponents he seized his place, the rabbi's place in the Great Synagogue. The controversy over the rabbinate became a fact and lasted until R' Sorotzkin's died in 1938. It should be noted, to the credit of R' Lieberman, that from the day R' Sorotzkin returned, and occupied the seat of town rabbi, on which R' Lieberman had sat for 13 years, the latter did not try to prevent him from doing so, something which might have led to brawls and desecration of holiness. From the day he left his place, he never again returned to the Great Synagogue.
After R' Sorotzkin's death, sat in his place, with the help of R' Lieberman's opponents, his son-in-law, the married yeshiva student, HaRav R' Yerachmiel Leizerzon, (who did not reach the level of R' Lieberman's personality). They became his supporters only because of their severe opposition to R' Lieberman.
With the entrance of the Red Army in September 1939, R' Yerachmiel Leizerzon left the town, and R' Yehoshua [Lieberman] was the rabbi recognized by all the townspeople. He was led to the slaughter together with all the members of his community on 12 Tishrei 5703/23 September 1942.
C. The Last Ritual Slaughterer and Meat Inspector
My brother, Rabbi Aharon Machtei zl, was born in 1874. He received religious education in the cheder and, at the age of 13, wandered to the Mir Yeshiva and stayed there until about the age of adolescence. As a yeshiva student, he continued his studies, so that he could marry a rabbi's daughter and reaches the rabbinate crown, or, at the very least, marry the daughter of wealthy parents so that his father-in-law would strengthen his financial situation. I think that the rabbinical leadership in Steibtz at that time influenced him to leave the rabbinical path.
The town rabbi in his time was R' Noah Meir Levin, or, as he was called in Steibtz, the Muscovite Rabbi. He was a forceful man, ran the rabbinate with a firm hand, and was also the spiritual leader of the community, managing it with talent. When he moved to Moscow, and later to Vilna, R' Shlomo Mordechai Brodni (grandfather of Bar-Eli zl, from Bank Hapoalim), was accepted as rabbi in his place. He was already satisfied with the position of a teacher since he lacked the vision of leadership. In my opinion, this contrast in the character of the two rabbis influenced my brother to remove the idea of serving in the rabbinate from his heart. With his meek character and refined disposition, he was likely to fail as a community leader, and he didn't want to be just a rabbi like R' Shlomo Mordechai [Brodni]. Therefore, he left the yeshiva when he was about 18 years old and began to study the laws of ritual slaughter.
And when he left the confines of the yeshiva, he was no longer satisfied with merely studying the Talmud, but he also studied the Bible. The Hibbat Zion movement also did not pass by him and, as a result, he became interested in the holy language. For his knowledge of Hebrew grammar, he used the book Moreh-Halashon. In 1892, a young man, Alter (Yitzchak) Yoselevitz, from the town of Lubtch, arrived in Steibtz. Alter Yoselevitz had left the yeshiva and by chance fixed his place of learning in the same synagogue where Aharon was studying. This meeting was fateful for both of them and, to a well-known extent, also for the Zionist character of Steibtz. A few years later, Alter became a Hebrew teacher and an active Zionist, who influenced, to no small degree, the dissemination of Zionism in the town.
Within a short time, Aharon learned and practiced ritual slaughter,
|Rabbi Aharon Machtei, ritual slaughterer and meat inspector|
and his butcher's knife was made and sharpened like that of a veteran slaughterer. He was also an excellent circumciser. Father zl, whose income from ritual slaughtering was not sufficient to support a family of eight, also engaged in engraving tombstones. When Aharon left the yeshiva, he also began to help his father in this craft, in which his exceptional skills were revealed. The letters on the gravestones were as exact as possible like printed letters, and he was skilled as well in making up rhymes in praise of the deceased, and his drawings on the gravestones were the work of an artist.
After his marriage, and when he was no longer dependent on his father-in-law's support, he was accepted as a ritual slaughterer in the town of Ryazan in central Russia. Thanks to his skill, he was given a certificate as an engraver of gravestones and, as a qualified craftsman, he was allowed to live outside the boundaries of the
Pale of Settlement. In 1905, the time of the pogroms in Russia, he returned home and his father handed over the gravestone engraving business to him. At that time, he was also engaged in the insurance business. In 1908 approximately, the first cooperative bank was established in the town, and he became its bookkeeper. Although he was self-taught, he excelled so much so, that the government bank comptroller advised the bookkeepers from the adjacent towns to come to him to learn his method.
He was a Zionist with all his heart and soul and influenced his children to go in that way. In 1923, his son, Yosef, immigrated to the Land of Israel, and later, his daughter, Zipora, (wife of the Prisons Commissioner, Aryeh Nir) also immigrated.
Although the ways of the last town rabbi, and the last ritual slaughterer and meat inspector, often diverged as with the issue of Zionism, they had a common fate: both were sons of ritual slaughterers, and both perished on the same day together with all the people of the community. There is a sort of legend that the rabbi marched to his death wrapped in his prayer shawl, and their bodies are buried in a common grave together with about 1,500 men, women, and children. And, who knows, whether they're still there, whether the place was not plowed over to improve the earth's vitality with them and make it bloom.
My brother, Aharon, who erected many tombstones on the graves of others, did not have the privilege of having a memorial stone on his own grave. May this short article serve as a memorial for him, and for the whole community, who perished before their time, and without pity, at the hands of those devoid of the image of G-d on foreign soil. May G-d avenge their blood!
by Rabbi Yitzchak HaLevi Epstein
Translated by Harvey Spitzer zl
Tall, good looking and cheerful, head and shoulders above all his friends at the famous Kletzk Yeshiva, stands in front of me as if alive, our friend from the past, the Gaon Rabbi Yerachmiel Leizerzon. He was handsome and made a very strong impression. Everyone liked him with his superior qualities and way of thinking.
I remember our many conversations, in which a pure soul and clarity of thought were expressed, and which more than once surprised us all.
I remember my last meeting with him in 5695/1935 before I went to live in the Land of Israel and before his marriage with the daughter of the Gaon Rabbi Yoel Sorotzkin - May the memory of the righteous be blessed!- town rabbi of Steibtz (Rabbi Yoel Sorotzkin - May the memory of the righteous be blessed! - was the son-in-law of the Gaon Maskil l'Eitan, who was the grandson of the author of Mitzpeh Eitan, the famous rabbi of Minsk for praise.) how much tenderness there was in his words. He told me then many things about his father, Rabbi Dov Ber - May the memory of the righteous be blessed!- head of the rabbinic court in Turka, - which is in Galicia and how much he longed already to go to live in the Land of Israel, and how much his great skills would certainly have developed here for a blessing and praise, but he didn't have the privilege of emigrating to the Land of Israel, and what a pity for this loss!
In 5695/1935, he merited to ascend to the seat of the rabbinate in Steibtz, where he had two daughters: Chassiah in 1936, who perished in an accident in 1937, and in 1938 his second daughter, Miriam, was born - May G-d avenge her blood!
Had he had the privilege of continuing in his position as town rabbi of Steibtz, we would surely have been witnesses to his great success. Indeed, we did not have that privilege, and it can be said about him what Our Sages of Blessed Memory said about Rabbi Simon in the Midrash Rabba for the weekly Torah portion Miketz: And their heart failed them and they turned trembling to one another saying, ‘What is this that G-d hath done unto us?’. They certainly established tribes, yet their heart failed them. We who have lost Rabbi Simon, how much more so! Enveloped in mourning, and pain and deep sorrow, we conjure up the precious memory of the Gaon Rabbi Yerachmiel of blessed memory, who had no substitute, and King David already said in Psalm 65:2 Of You (G-d,) silence is praise, and see what Rashi says about this verse: Silence is eloquent praise for You, and one who is profuse in praise merely detracts from what is left unsaid. I won't allow myself then to be profuse in praise, and all I've tried to do is to sketch some lines for his wonderful image. May his precious soul be bound up in eternal life!
From right to left: Dovid Goldin, Shlomo Yoselevski, Rabbi Yerachmiel Leizerzon, Pesach Tunik, Dr. Yisrael Machtei
by HaRav Eliezer Maskil-L'Eitan
Translated by Harvey Spitzer zl
The Rebbetzin, Chassiah-Miriam Sorotzkin (Carmel) may she rest in peace, was the wife of HaRav HaGaon R' Yoel Sorotzkin (Carmel) ztzl, the Rabbi of Steibtz. She was the eldest daughter of the renowned Gaon, R' Avraham Yitzchak Maskil L'Eitan ztzl, who served with praise and glory in the holy communities of Smolavitch, Choslovitz and Steibtz.
The Rebbetzin's genealogy goes back continuously to HaShelah HaKadosh, and further back in glory to Rashi zl and King David. The Rebbetzin was a marvelous figure, possessing superior qualities, every good deed was done by her in the simplicity of grace and in the most natural way. Her whole being expressed innocence and humility.
The great praise in the chapter "A Woman of Valor" was written as though it were intended and designated for the Rebbetzin zl. Her life was a complete fulfillment of the praise and glory of a woman of valor, and she received all ten kabim in this lofty poem. Her home in Steibtz, which was based and founded upon the purity of spirit and holiness, existed for a short time only from the year 5666/1906 to 5674/1914, but even in this short period, she managed to reveal the full extent of her greatness.
She was a mother to orphans, support to widows, and a source of aid to all in need. Her ear was attentive, her eye was observant and her heart was full of compassion for the individual and the community. The education of her sons was the aspiration of her soul. When her sons were still young, one 12 years old and the other 11, she sent them to the Mir and Slobodka Yeshivas. In the year 5674/1914, with the outbreak of the First World War, her family was exiled by the authorities. The family was forced to wander, and the storm of war carried them off to Saratov, on the Volga River. The Rebbetzin's heart was in pain and grief, but she did not despair, and her spiritual courage did not leave her.
Her husband, the Gaon, HaRav R' Yoel Sorotzkin ztzl, was forced to temporarily leave his position as Rabbi and leader of the community. It was incumbent upon him to be concerned about providing for his household, and the Rebbetzin stood by him and tried to ease the burden of his situation with all her strength and ability.
She knew how to encourage anyone who was depressed and embittered. Women came into her house continuously. She encouraged them all, comforted them all, soothed them all, and received each one with love and mercy.
Our Sages of Blessed Memory said: By three things man is recognized: by his pocket, by his cup, and in his anger. She bore no anger in her heart, did not harbor resentment against anyone and did not know the taste of anger and wrath. Her patience and forbearance were boundless. Her words were spoken calmly.
Also, in her cup she could serve as a role model and example. Her house was open wide to everyone in need. She was contented with very little. She saved and ate little, to give to the hungry.
She did not complain during the days of sorrow and sighing (in the Bolshevik period). She would restrain her suffering so as not to cause distress to others. And if indeed, her sighs were heard, and her eyes flowed with tears, these were heartfelt sighs over the fate of others whom she was powerless to help. She excelled in offering hospitality to guests, was happy to make her bed available to the guest, and even the pillow under her head.
What is wrong with that? she would say, I can sleep on a bench as well. It is hard to describe and explain the significance of hospitality in those days in Moscow, to those who have not experienced it. She was greatly troubled at times if it seemed to her that others did not extend the same hospitality to a guest who had come to stay at her home.
She also excelled with her pocket [charity]. She spread out her palm to the poor and extended her hand to the destitute. Who knows, and who can describe her generosity? She experienced so much sorrow and suffering when she was unable to extend aid in full measure, to the needy.
In the year 5690/1930, the family managed to leave the Valley of Bacha. After a short stay in Poland, all the members of the family immigrated to the Land of Israel. Only the youngest daughter remained in Steibtz with the parents. With their departure into the wide world, after reciting the blessing, G-d releases those in captivity, the life of HaRav HaGaon Yoel Sorotzkin, and that of his wife, Chassiah-Miriam, may she rest in peace, started anew, a life of great vision and activity for the benefit of the people. They married off their youngest daughter to an outstanding scholar, to R' Yerachmiel Leizerson, the last Rabbi of Steibtz May G-d avenge his blood! but the woodchopper arose against the Jewish people the Nazi Holocaust did not bypass them, and they were executed in the prime of their lives.
The righteous are gathered to be spared from evil. The Rebbetzin died in the year 5696/1936 and was interred in the burial chamber of her father, the Gaon Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Maskil L'Eitan ztzl in Steibtz. The family's chamber was built of red bricks and was also of majestic splendor on the outside. A large gravestone made of black granite, on which the names of the deceased, and their functions, were engraved in bright letters, was set in the facade of the wall.
Lo and behold. Of all the members of the family sons and daughters not one of them had the privilege of being buried in the company of the Gaon, except for the Rebbetzin Chassiah-Miriam May she rest in peace! Her deeds of great vision and drive are what enabled her to be close to him even after her death.
May their memory be blessed, and their names endure forever.
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The community rule in Steibtz according to the second elections
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