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Institutions

 

The Last Rabbi Of Stoibtz
– The Gaon Rabbi Yehoshua Dov Lieberman

(God will revenge his blood)

by Rabbi Nissen Waksman, New York

Translated by Libby Raichman

The last Rabbi of Stoibtz was actually a true son of Stoibtz by birth, born to the Lieberman family who occupied an important place in Stoibtz community life for more than a hundred years.

His grandfather was Reb Moshe Dovid Zilberg who, while still a young boy, was famous in his birth shtetl of Rubzevicz and was then already well–known as a great scholar and a master of Talmud and verse. He married in Stoibtz right at the time when the town needed a shochet (ritual slaughterer) and he accepted that position. He also used to say “Midrash” (a passage of Talmud) and “Ein Ya'akov” between Minchah and Ma'ariv in the big synagogue, but he had no inclination to become a Rabbi.

Not a lot of slaughtering was required in the shtetl so Reb Moshe Dovid used to sit mostly in the synagogue and study. The elders of Stoibtz would enthusiastically describe his great diligence. He was once found late at night sitting all alone in the synagogue studying a page of Gemorrah and in order not to fall asleep; he took off his shoes and kept his feet in a bowl of cold water …

Reb Moshe Dovid lived in Stoibtz for more than 20 years. When his family grew larger, he began to make plans to improve his income. Then, his older son Shlayme had to be conscripted into the military. This shook him completely. To go and serve the Russians was to Reb Moshe Dovid the worst thing in the world so for this he thought of a plan. He took his son Shlayme to study in Turetz where no one knew him and for the right sum of money he registered him with the mayor as an only child, under the name of Shlayme Lieberman (in memory of the famous Gaon and slaughterer, Rabbi Lieberman of Prague who is mentioned in “Yoreh Day–a” in paragraph 35 in a commentary on the Shulchan Aruch by Shabtai Cohen, in sub–section 18.

This is how Shlayme, the son of Moshe Dovid, received a new name and also a “God send” that freed him from military service. A short time later Shlayme married Chaye Golde, the daughter of a respected man from Turetz and he remained there for a few years studying and living as a boarder.

When the boarding came to an end, Shlayme turned back to his father in Stoibtz. Reb Moshe Dovid then handed over to him the “right” of slaughter and then had to bend his principles and take on the position of Rabbi of the shtetl of Vohin, near Mezritch.

Although all the people of that shtetl were “Kotzker Chassidim” and he, Reb Moshe Dovid, was a “cold opponent”, they respected him greatly because of his knowledge of the Torah and his piety and everything carried on normally for a period of two years.

It happened once that Reb Moshe Dovid went to the Mikveh and when he was undressing a few of the leading members of the community noticed that he was wearing braces on his pants instead of a regular belt as most of them did. These Jews immediately went to the synagogue and told the congregation that their Rabbi is a “German” and is surely “caught in the act” (that means: “in the non–kosher enlightenment movement” – suspected of heresy), and the proof:”he is wearing braces” … . The Kotzker Chassidim could not tolerate this any longer. They immediately called a gathering of the residents of the town and unanimously decided to send away the “Lithuanian Jew” back to where he once came.

Sadly Reb Moshe Dovid had to flee with his family and went to Warsaw. His name immediately became popular among the learned circles of Lithuanian Talmudic societies in the town and the eminent, wealthy Reb Fyvish Trokkenheit of Warsaw employed him to teach his children privately; they were later the well–known Senator Reb Ya'akov Trokkenheit and his brother Wolf.

In those days the Gaon Reb Yashe Ber Soloveitshik, the Rabbi of Brisk, came to Warsaw often, where he was very popular. It happened that when Reb Yashe Ber visited his friend

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Mr. Trokkenheit, met Reb Moshe Dovid teaching Gemorrah to his children. Reb Yashe Ber immediately recognized that this was no ordinary teacher. Going through his teaching with Reb Moshe Dovid, he was deeply impressed by his proficiency and intellect and invited him to be a Dayan (a judge and associate of the Rabbi) in Brisk. Reb Moshe Dovid immediately accepted his offer and was Dayan of the Brisk Beit Din during the time of the Gaon Reb Yashe Ber and later his son Reb Chaim Soloveitshik until he died in 1904 and his son–in–law, Reb Chaim Ya'akov Shulman took his place until the final destruction.

When Reb Shlayme Lieberman took over the “rights of Slaughter” from his father, he gave long talks on Midrash and Ein Ya'akov to the congregation in the large synagogue. In addition he possessed a deep understanding of worldly matters and a high level of natural wisdom and healthy logic.

Under his father's influence Reb Shlayme was also afraid that his children should God forbid, have to “serve the Kaiser”. First he registered them in Navaredok where he believed that it would be easier to free them from military service even though Stoibtz then belonged to Minsk and people from Stoibtz used to work there. After much difficulty and great expense he was fortunate and all his sons were freed from doing military service. Each time one of his sons was freed, it was for him like celebrating a festival and in honor of this event he would sew a new kapotte (a special long coat worn by religious Jews). When the locals mocked him and asked from whence he took such “wealth” or whether he had found a “diamond in a lung” … . He answered: “Esau grabbed enough from this matter. Let us also have enjoyment from it” …

He always used to say: Two things are never too expensive and are always worth whatever one has to pay: freeing a son from military service or marrying off a daughter. When Stoibtz burnt down and Reb Shlayme's house burnt down too, he received 800 Rouble in “insurance money”, but instead of immediately building a new house, Reb Shlayme used the money to marry off a daughter. So friends remarked: How is it possible that you should do such a thing, to remain without a roof over your head? Reb Shlayme joked: without any danger, the longer one waits, the newer the house will be, but the longer the daughter waits – the older she will become!

Although Reb Shlayme was engaged only with slaughter, everyone in the town knew, that he too, like his father, was worthy of being a Dayan. When the Rabbi, Reb Yoel Sarotzkin left Stoibtz at the end of 1915, in the middle of the First World War, to go deep into Russia, the whole town prevailed upon Reb Shlayme and insisted that he take over the Rabbinate, a position he held until he died on the 14th Tevet 5680 (corresponding to the 5th January 1920).

 

Reb Shlayme, ritual slaughterer

 

It is worthwhile mentioning here that this happened despite the fact that there was no shortage of candidates who were eager to be the leading Rabbi of Stoibtz. Stoibtz had a generations–long tradition of great Rabbis. The communal leaders had not yet forgotten that the Gaon Reb Dovid Tevl left them to become the Rabbi of Minsk. Also just then the esteemed Gaon Reb Avrom Yishaye Karelitz happened to be staying in Stoibtz. He later became known by the name of his books – “Chazon Ish” (The Vision of Man). The wife of Reb Avrom Yeshaye had a dry goods shop in Stoibtz that she ran with her sister–in–law, the sister of her husband, while he sat day and night in the synagogue and studied except for the day of a “market”. When the market was full of Gentiles, Reb Avrom Yeshaye would go to the shop for a couple of hours to keep an eye on the Gentiles and also sometimes measure a few arshin (a Russian measure) for a customer. The shop continued for a few years and probably brought in certain profits but also added importance to the town. Reb Avrom Yeshaye did not actually become involved with matters in the town but merely his presence had an effect and made the people realize that not everyone who calls himself a Rabbi dares to think about being a candidate for the rabbinate of Stoibtz.

Reb Shlayme Lieberman had four sons and as was the custom, gave them the best opportunities to learn Torah. After studying with the local Gemorrah teachers, Reb Shlayme sent them to the famous Yeshivot: Mir, Radin and Slabodke where they spent many years and became great scholars and their father “derived great joy” from them.

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The middle son, Reb Yosef, later became a Rabbi in Bitten near Slonim, Reb Ya'akov became the ritual slaughterer in Horodishtsh and the youngest son Reb Meir, became a Rabbi in Yelinovve near Subalk but the crown of the family was Reb Shlayme's eldest son, the Gaon, Reb Yehoshua Dov Lieberman.

The Rabbi, Reb Yehoshua or Reb Ishiye – as they called him in homely mother–tongue – was born in the year 1884. As a child he showed great talent and the local teachers said that he is a genius in the making. At the age of 11, his father already brought him to the Mir yeshiva. The head of the yeshiva, Reb Chaim Leib Tiktinsky tested him and took him into the yeshiva where he immediately became known as “the small Stoibtz prodigy”.

It is hard to know if the young boy already then understood fully the deep lessons that he managed to hear in the last couple of years from the old Gaon, Reb Chaim Leib. These made a great impression on him and had an incomparably positive effect that was evident throughout his whole life. Whoever spent time with him on Torah issues and saw his dislike for all sorts of debates and flashy literal translations saw instead how he always searched to find the right interpretation. They could recognize the deep roots of his thought processes from the notable Gaon Reb Chaim Leib who's special sort of teaching charmed all his students and remained legendary in the Jewish Torah world.

Reb Chaim Leib conducted his lessons until the end of 1898 and died on the 19th of Nissan 1899. He was succeeded as head of the yeshiva by the Gaon Reb Eli Baruch Kamai and he too quickly became acquainted with the young boy from Stoibtz. Reb Eli Baruch was deeply impressed with his “maturity” and “liveliness” in learning and had great respect for him.

In the year 1900 when Ishiye turned 16 he went to the Slabodke yeshiva. There a new world opened for him. At that time, there were many boys with brilliant talents in the Slabodke yeshiva who later became famous Gaonim in their generations. Here the young boy from Stoibtz felt like a fish in water. His talents were immediately evident and his name was counted among the much esteemed students of the yeshiva.

Above all, the founder and head custodian of the yeshiva, Reb Natte Hirsh Finkel, took an interest in Ishiye. Being a supremely gifted teacher and a respected man of talent, he knew how to maneuver in order to bring out and encourage the talents of others and enable them to reach even higher levels.

In this way Reb Natte Hirsh or as he was already called, “the old one” took great care of the boy from Stoibtz. When he saw that Ishiye was a country boy, shy and withdrawn, he devoted himself particularly to drawing him out publicly in the yeshiva so that he would gain recognition and inspiration for his future development.

Ishiye remained in Slabodke for almost ten years during which time he studied with great diligence and became known as one of greatest scholars of the yeshiva. “The old one” took great pride in him and expected to see in him a magnificent leader among Jews.

In the year 1910 “the old one” decided to send a few of his best students to the yeshiva in Mir in order to raise their level of achievement, their learning in general and the study of ethics in particular. They would study under the direction of his son, the Gaon Reb Eliezer Yehuda Finkel who was already at that time the son–in–law of Reb Eli Baruch and had become head of the yeshiva in the course of only a few years. “The old man” asked that Ishiye and his friend Reb Yosef Arler (the Rabbi Farber, now head of the yeshiva of “Heichal Hatalmud” in Tel Aviv) be placed at the forefront of the group. It is self–evident that this was designed to suit Ishiye, a former student of Mir that was a neighboring town of his birth town Stoibtz.

Ishiye and his friends fulfilled their mission perfectly. The Mir yeshiva then gained a considerable thrust forward and from then on, it was regarded as one of the greatest Torah centers in the world. But Ishiye proved to be of added benefit. It happened just then that the town of Mir burnt down so Ishiye suggested that they should move across to Stoibtz temporarily until a new building was constructed in Mir. The young head of the yeshiva agreed to this but the idea did not appeal to Reb Eli Baruch because he claimed that Stoibtz was known to be a “free town” and therefore it was a spiritual danger for the yeshiva. He reinforced his opinion by saying that although Stoibtz was only 17 km from Mir, there were not many yeshiva students from Stoibtz besides Ishiye, his two younger brothers and another boy by the name of Yochanan Reb Meir Mirsky (later the Rabbi of Zabladovve, who died in Auschwitz). Therefore they moved the yeshiva to Karrelitz.

Just then, a few days later, Karrelitz also burnt down (the jesters in the town joked: “If towns are already burning before the yeshiva students are Rabbis, what kind of fires will there be in the towns where they will be Rabbis … . ). This time the Gaon Reb Eli Baruch

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had no option but to agree that the yeshiva be moved temporarily to Stoibtz.

When the yeshiva people arrived, the whole town came to the synagogue to welcome them. The Gaon Reb Eli Baruch made a speech and declared that Stoibtz is greatly privileged that the custodians brought the Mir yeshiva to them in their town. At the end he concluded that for producing one such as Ishiye Lieberman, Stoibtz deserves the great honor.

From that time on, Stoibtz Jews began to look upon Reb Ishiye in a different light and treated him with great respect.

In the year 1913, Reb Ishiye married Michle, the very talented daughter of the Rabbi of Shedletz, Reb Shimon Dov Analik.

Miss Analik was highly educated and a beauty of the first degree. In addition she possessed a rare, refined character, a quiet modest manner and a natural love of people that led to good deeds.

 

The Rabbi Reb Meir Lieberman
(May he live to see good days. Amen)
Miami, America

 

In the summer of 1914, the First World War broke out and the Jews of Shedletz had to immigrate deeper into Russia. Reb Ishiye and his wife travelled to Minsk, the nearest big town where they were allowed to stay. It was particularly good for him as it enabled him to be close to his family in Stoibtz.

In Minsk there was then a real “ingathering of the exiles” where most of the Rabbis and Gaonim of the war countries could be found. At that time the Slabodka yeshiva was also housed there and the Rabbi of Brisk, Reb Chaim Soloveitshik attracted almost all the learned Torah scholars. At that time the famous Gaon and righteous man, Reb Elchanan Vasserman led a yeshiva in the shtetl of Smilovicz, which was not far from Minsk, after fleeing from Brisk where he was head of the yeshiva for many years. It happened that Reb Elchanan came to Minsk to meet Reb Chaim and there he met Reb Ishiye. As usual, they immediately spent time on Torah matters and Reb Elchanan was greatly impressed by Reb Ishiye's style of learning and his wonderfully clear explanations. Reb Elchanan invited him to take over a part of his yeshiva in the shtetl of Dukar, ten Russian viorst from Smilovic, on the way to the train station of Rudensk, near Minsk. Dukar was the birthplace of the famous three Tsharny brothers, Shmuel Niger, Boruch Vladek and Daniel.

Reb Ishiye accepted the invitation with joy. Reb Elchanan immediately sent a group of fine, gifted men to Dukar and Reb Ishiye received them warmly and gave them a lesson in Gemorrah.

Dukar was a small village but the local Jews, ordinary folk–people, tradesmen and workers had warm Jewish hearts and received the yeshiva with open arms. Most of them there were Lubavicz and Koydanov Chassidim. The town's Rabbi, Reb Nissim Telushkin, a very refined Jew with strong Lubavicz leanings, merely said that this was an opportunity for Dukar that does not happen very often. So the Jews of Dukar ran at “full speed” with Chassidic zeal to do something for the yeshiva. Every one of them wanted to have a yeshiva student in his home for the Sabbath and often there were not enough yeshiva folk for everybody.

I can never forget the goodness and genuine sincerity that these Jews showed us young boys. There was a man there from Kirzsh whose name was Moshe Aharon. He had a fairly large house divided in half. In one half was his “dwelling”, a kitchen, divided by a curtain and a large chest, from the beds and in the second half was his workshop where he made his hats. So Moshe Aharon from Kirzsh discussed the matter with his “woman of valor” and decided that as the hats were manufactured there only in the daytime, they could take in a few yeshiva students who could sleep there at night and during the day, they could have their meals in the half of the house, where he lived. So they put up six makeshift beds and took in six yeshiva students to eat and sleep during the week, except for the Sabbath, as he said when he had to share his pleasure with other Jews and kept only one student for himself.

As all the Jews of Dukar, Moshe Aharon also possessed a couple of goats that brought him half of his livelihood, this simple Jew

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who could hardly get through a portion of the Pentateuch in Hebrew Script, would get up early every morning and before he ran to the synagogue to pray, milked his two goats and awakened “his” two yeshiva students and brought to the bed of each one of them, a bowl with two full glasses: one with water to wash their hands in the bowl and the second, full of warm goat's milk given “with a sober heart” … The pleasure of this Jew when he “delighted the hearts” of “his yeshiva boys” with the fresh milk of “his goats” was indescribable and his eyes then lit up with joy.

In the yeshiva there were a few very poor boys that did not receive any support from home and had to eat a meal at a different house each day. Usually the Dukar Jews did not make any daily “dishes” but managed to sustain themselves with whatever was available, but on the day that the yeshiva boy was coming, they made special dishes in his honor, like pancakes and other delicacies. In this way the yeshiva boys enjoyed the good heartedness of the Dukar Jews as well as the fatherly attitude of Reb Ishiye and his wife Michle.

The yeshiva in Dukar and later in the shtetl Ihumen continued for a few years and many hundreds of young boys, who later went over to the big yeshivot, received their fundamental education in Dukar under the leadership of Rabbi Reb Yehoshua Lieberman. But as the Russian Government became more hostile to religion and religious elements, it became impossible to maintain the yeshiva so Reb Ishiye went to his family in Stoibtz where people already then said that Stoibtz would belong to Poland.

 

Sitting from right: Rabbi Reb Yosef Lieberman from Bitten and his children, his
father–in–law Rabbi Reb Pesach Zuchovitzky from Hansevicz

Standing: Rabbi Lieberman's wife and her uncle Zuchovitzky

 

Rabbis of Stoibtz

As already mentioned above, his father Reb Shlayme maintained the Stoibtz Rabbinate during the war years until he died in 1920.

As Reb Ishiye was in Stoibtz at the time, a movement immediately arose in the town to accept him as the Rabbi. Interesting was the fact that the Gaon, the “Chazon Ish” who was still in Stoibtz at the time and never got involved in the town's issues, as has already been mentioned, put aside his principles this time and he himself wrote the Rabbinic contract that the most important members of the community signed and Reb Ishiye was elected as the Rabbi of Stoibtz. Immediately after this he began a series of activities that he managed until the last day of his life.

During the war years, the synagogues and the Mikveh burnt down in Stoibtz. Therefore the first thing Reb Ishiye did was to organize their rebuilding and he established a Talmud Torah (a school for Torah study) “Chorev”, that in the course of all these years provided a religious education for hundreds of Jewish children in Stoibtz. He also established a separate school for girls called “Bet Ya'akov” (House of Jacob), under the leadership of his father–in–law, Rabbi Reb Shlayme Ha'ari; – it had its own beautiful building. This building was also the site of Agudat Yisrael” (The society for Israel) in Stoibtz.

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Around 1930 the previous Rabbi, Rabbi Reb Yoel Sarotzkin who as previously mentioned, lived in Moscow since 1915, turned to the Stoibtz community after an official demand that he return to Poland and he assured them that he would not seek to take back the position of Rabbi. Many members of the community were hesitant about this, as they were afraid of a possible dispute but the Rabbi, Reb Yehoshua Lieberman persuaded them to fulfil Rabbi Sarotzkin's request in order to save him from Russia. Finally when Rabbi Sarotzkin actually returned to Stoibtz, Rabbi Lieberman relinquished his position in the big synagogue and from the official rabbinic community and remained only with the yeast, that means, his income consisted of selling yeast and Rabbi Sarotzkin became the official Rabbi.

As usual, the situation caused great upset but despite that Rabbi Lieberman did not give up any of his spiritual work in Stoibtz. Together with his beloved wife they pledged all that they had, to the Jewish institutions in the town, mainly for the religious education system. Besides all these elementary education institutions for the youth in the town, Rabbi Lieberman was successful in fulfilling his main ambition in life, namely to establish a yeshiva that he named “The light of Israel” that he administered without any pay and where he also taught the highest class for one lesson every day. Besides him there were a few other heads of yeshivot for the other classes, the Rabbis Reb Simchah Plotkin, Reb Yehuda Kaganovicz, Reb Moshe Gitteles, Reb Ya'akov Domnitz, Reb Dovid Shmulovicz (all of them perished).

In the course of a few years, Torah education bore its fruit and Stoibtz became a genuine religious centre. Many local girls married scholars who remained in the town and about 30 yeshiva students from Stoibtz studied in the big yeshiva. The religious elements also had a domineering hand in the leadership of the community as did the city council, to such an extent that the new spirit that reigned in Stoibtz and its turn to the right was not recognisable.

Despite the fact that his father–in–law Rabbi Reb Shlayme Ha'ari was the leader of the “Society for Israel” in the town, Rabbi Lieberman remained strongly impartial. He believed that a Rabbi belongs to everyone and is therefore not permitted to span in the wagon of one or other party, without exception. He even refused an invitation to the World Agudat Israel, to become a member of the “Board of Great Scholars”, a privilege to which many Rabbis aspired.

His leadership and devotion to Stoibtz endeared him to all levels of society in the town. The intelligent and liberal elements also showed him and his esteemed wife great respect, admiration and affection. He was wholeheartedly supported in local affairs in the town, not only by such sworn religious leaders as the respected Reb Yitzchak Shmuel Halevi Epshtein, founder of the local institutions for charity and benevolence (passed away 3rd Nissan 5693 corresponding to 30th March 1933) but also those like Dr. Sirkin, Shimon Kitayevicz the pharmacist, Shlayme Harkavy, and Ziml Chaitovicz who were all his devoted friends and admirers.

When his wife died (childless) in Tammuz 5696 (corresponding to July 1936) it was a tragedy that enveloped the whole of Stoibtz and its surrounds and at her eulogy that took place on the 12th Tammuz 5696 (corresponding to the 2nd July 1936) in the big hall of Beit Ya'akov, the throngs were unbelievable and every one cried like mourners.

At best, what was evident was the devotion of the town to Rabbi Lieberman. The celebratory dedication of the extended “Chorev” Synagogue at the end of Simchat Torah in 5698 (1938) attracted a large crowd of various levels of society.

After a spiritual overview of education by the chairman and councillor Aharon Chait, the main honours were sold: “the gate” and “the key”. The gate was bought by a group made up of the head of the community Abba Berkovicz, Shrage Moltshatsky and Ze'ev Wolfson who handed it over into the hands of Rabbi Lieberman, in order for him to cut the symbolic ribbon. This honor was given to him for the difficulties that he endured until the building was completed. A second group consisting of Shaul Shmerkovicz, Shraga Aginsky, Michl Tunik and others, bought the key and honoured Rabbi Sarotzkin to open the doors of the building.

Until the last day of his life Rabbi Lieberman was totally devoted to Jewish education that he regarded as the main principle of Judaism. He gave the largest part of his very small income for this goal and for other charities in the town. He would frequently comment on the verse: the sin of my people is greater than the sin of Sodom – why? Because in Sodom they would only cut off the feet – in order to fit into their small beds but with our current non–religious education, the head is being cut off! …

Although Rabbi Lieberman did not engage in his own party matters he was however very

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interested in the people who were chosen to represent communal life and he would always present his opinions with thought and clarity.

Once before elections, Rabbi Lieberman gave a special sermon and expressed a wonderful thought that is worth recording:

The Master Folklorist of Passover says: “The Torah speaks about 4 sons, one wise, one wicked, one simple and one who does not know how to ask”. This means that the Torah speaks constantly to 4 classes of people. Rabbi Lieberman asks: If that is so then the wise were always merely a minority of ¼ and the other ¾ always consisted of the wicked, the simple and those who do not know how to ask. So why is there such uproar against the world of today that is apparently not much different or worse in hindsight than in the past?

Rabbi Lieberman answered, the calculation is really the same as before but the difference is in, who is the leader. In the past, the wise man was the leader and the simple one followed and “he who does not know how to ask” followed the simple one and as a matter of course the wicked one also had to drag himself after them. Today unfortunately it is completely different. The leader is the wicked one and the simple one follows him and after him trudges “the one who does not know how to ask”. Therefore the wise one remains alone and is in big trouble.

*

As almost all the rabbis in the district, Rabbi Lieberman also firmly decided to share in the fate of his beloved Stoibtz and not to move from the place, despite the fact that he had opportunities to flee from Russia. Rabbis and whole yeshivot with students fled to Vilna or escaped even later under the Germans, before the ghettos, deep into Russia. But his heart did not allow him to think of himself when he saw what was happening to all the other Jews around him.

The weeks and months under Nazi occupation especially since the Ghetto was created, stretched like black clouds with constant death threats and despair, until that fateful Yom Kippur in 5703, which fell on Monday the 21st September 1942. Everyone instinctively felt that something dreadful was hanging in the air. Jews risked the little bit of life that remained in them and prayed in a minyan throughout the whole day in the house of Nechama Sorre, the woman who administered ablutions to women in the bath–house while outside women stood guard so that the angry eyes of the Nazis should not, heaven forbid, discover the Jewish conspiracy.

A second minyan also prayed in the house of the maker of clay pots in Potshtovve Street. There lived Rabbi Lieberman with his niece Miriam, widow of Rabbi Damnitz, and her son, the Rubeziewicz tailor Asher Raine's son–in–law and Reb Mordechai Fyvl Kivovicz. When the day passed peacefully everyone breathed afresh and again tried to hope. At Rabbi Lieberman's they also prayed on Tuesday, the next morning, after Yom Kippur; and even Wednesday morning they went to pray but they did not finish. The big pit, not far from the cemetery, had already been dug throughout the night by the local Gentiles. In the morning they had already started chasing all the Jews that were caught in and around the ghetto.

In the midst of praying with the holy Gaon Rabbi Yehoshua Dov Lieberman, and his minyan, they, the unclean, took him when he was still wrapped in his tallit and tefillin, and took him to the same place where he was shot together with approximately 2000 Jews.

“Earth will not cover their blood.”


The Rabbi Reb Yehoshua Dov Lieberman

by Yitzchak Isaac Shapiro

Translated by Libby Raichman

In our shtetl Stoibtz, the chair of the rabbinate was occupied by our distinguished and respected Rabbi, the Gaon Yehoshua Dov Lieberman. He studied in the Slabodke yeshiva and was one of its most illustrious students. He was versed in Talmud and first and last verses. He had all the qualities of character and was worthy of being the leader and the Rabbi of the community in the town. He was also highly respected by the Gentiles.

Rabbi Yehoshua Dov was accomplished at spreading the idea of Torah learning. He raised the level of religious education. He established a Talmud Torah for poor children. The principal of the Talmud Torah was Rabbi Reb Shlayme Ha'ari, a slaughterer and examiner, who was a much loved person in the shtetl. Reb Yehuda Kapushtsevsky was the teacher. He was a great expert and taught Bible, Hebrew, grammar and Gemorrah. He himself lived in poverty but he sent his children to study in the yeshivot. His oldest son is a great scholar and he is now the chief Rabbi in Netanya the Rabbi Reb Moshe Levin (May he live to see happy days). Rabbi Lieberman created a line of credit – to pay for the Talmud Torah every week. The treasurer of the account was one of the co–founders of the Talmud Torah, the pious man, Reb Yosef Miskov. He was one of the founders of Beit Ya'akov and with great effort erected a building for the school on the site of the “nistar” (meaning hidden – a righteous person who lives in hiding) Nachum Reb Elye on Yurezdikke Street. His merit will protect us.

In the time of Reb Yehoshua Dov, there also existed a small yeshiva – where four heads of

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Yeshivot studied, Rabbis who were Gaonim: Reb Yehuda Kaganovicz, Reb Moshe Gittelis, Reb Dovid Shmueluvicz and Reb Ya'akov Dumnitz. Stoibtz was the centre for Torah study. Children from the small surrounding villages were sent to study in the yeshiva. Reb Yehoshuah sent poor children to study in the big yeshivot and in addition he also provided for their expenses. Generally, he laid down his life for the “poor of the town”.

 

The Tiferet (Glory) Boys

Sitting from right: Rabbi Dovid Shmueluvicz, Ruven Tunik, Aharon Chait
Standing from right: Yosef Ruditzky, Isaac Shapiro, Leib Aharon Grunem, Alter Minker, Chaim Stolovitsky, Mordechai Chaikl Prusinovsky

 

The Rabbi's house was the meeting place for the sages. Community leaders who had been yeshiva students used to gather used to gather there to discuss various issues, words of Torah and disputes of the world. The Rabbi used to talk about the development of Slabodke and the principles of ethics.

The boys enjoyed it very much and took a great interest while they were in the Rabbi's house. This also prevented former yeshiva students from turning to depravity.

The Rabbi also took an interest in local matters in the town i.e. with the city council. For the elections he campaigned for the list of Agudat Yisrael and randomly for the leaders of the community. The Rabbi's list, which was number 5, scored a great victory. Regarding this the Rabbi preached alluding to the Creation (Genesis 2:4).

The following stories that took place will clarify the personality of Rabbi Reb Yehoshua Dov, may his memory be blessed, and will highlight his character, charity and fear of God.

At the time of the great controversy about the rabbinate, the Rabbi, the Gaon, Reb Yehoshua Dov Lieberman left the old synagogue and went to pray at home. Afterwards when the house became too crowded, he prayed in the Talmud Torah, that the opponents called “padlaszne”, because the Talmud Torah was next to the bath house. The Rabbi told me that community leaders and youth approached him and asked him to go back with them to pray in the old synagogue. “We are here beside you. If they touch you and offend you, we will retaliate” … The Rabbi answered: “As soon as it comes to a conflict between brothers, I will give in … And he left the place where he sat for more than ten years. From the Talmud Torah he went to the Yurezdikke synagogue and there he spread the word of Torah publicly.

He lived in poverty, yet he still did much charity work and acts of kindness. He covered a large part of the budget for the Talmud Torah and the small yeshiva. If he gave anyone a loan (without interest) he never asked for it back – in case the borrower did not have the means. Then he would embarrass him and Reb Ishiye would be transgressing the law of “pressing his neighbour for payment”.

In the shtetl there was a water–carrier, a Gentile named Pashke. He kept his money with the Rabbi and no one knew about it. When he died without any heirs, the rabbi took the money to the magistrate. The Gentiles saw this act and they were astonished and the sanctification of God's name was great.

[Page 280]

 

Rabbi Reb Yehuda and Yente Yokimovsky

 

Shane–Batye Shapiro

 

Every year before Passover, money used to arrive from America – wheat money for the poor. Once the money arrived late and it was ten days before Passover so the Rabbi called the community leaders from all the houses of prayer and stopped the reading of the Torah. I went to call Velvl Tunik (Azriel's son), from the old synagogue and he told them, that as the wheat money had not arrived this year, he expected 10 community leaders to promise, that straight after the Havdalah service, they would come and sign promissory notes at the Rabbi's house so that they could borrow money from the bank in the meantime. If the money arrived, the money would be returned to them and if not, each one would have to repay his promissory note. If this was not done, they would not be allowed to read from the Torah. That is what happened. A couple of days later the money arrived.

In the year 1939, in the first months of Soviet power, I once went with the Rabbi to pray at the Minchah service. As we were walking he asked me: “What are you thinking about?” I answered him: “You know what the world says – “Happy are they that live in your house”. So the Rabbi answered me: “It's good if one has a house”. Then I understood the intimation – that it is not a good idea to remain here. I thought of going to Vilna. (It is thanks to the rabbi that I remained alive). In those times rabbis were fleeing to Vilna, to the Lithuanians.

It was suggested to the Rabbi: “perhaps it is an idea for the Rabbi to go?” He answered: “A Rabbi is exactly like the captain of a ship. As long as there are Jews in Stoibtz, one cannot leave the town”.

A memorial candle for the soul of my mother, my teacher Shayne–Batye daughter of Wolf Yosef, my sister Yente the daughter of Tzvi and her son Tzvi, who were murdered for the sanctification of the Holy name, in the Stoibtz Ghetto. My brother–in–law, Rabbi Reb Yehuda son of Yosef Yakimovsky, who was murdered for the sanctification of the Holy name, in the Baranovicz camp.

 

Chaye Aginsky at the grave of her husband Boruch son of Moshe.
The second gravestone is of Hirshl Shapiro, son of Yente.

 

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