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[Pages 204-206]

Rebbe Binyamin, SHUB

by Rafael Sapir

Translated by Shulamit Berman z”l

Notes: The acronym SHUB in the title indicates that Binyamin was a shochet (ritual slaughterer) and bodek (checker qualified to see that animal slaughter has been done according to law), in his case an inherited position. Elsewhere in this yizkor book, Binyamin Shochet and his brother Yitzhak are also recalled as teachers of religious studies. Rebbe or Reb is an honorific, not a rabbinic title.

The author of this chapter, Rafael Sapir (the name originally was Sforim), came to Shumsk with his parents and siblings as refugees during World War I. Having been teachers of Hebrew, the parents opened a school in Shumsk where Hebrew was taught, and they were active in the Zionist activities in the town. Rafael was among the first people from Shumsk to emigrate to Palestine. He was on the editorial board for this yizkor book and wrote three chapters, including a piece about Rabbi Yisroel Dov Ber Lerner, beginning on page 188.

If I were to describe him as a rare character, it would not do him justice. Nowadays there really are no such characters.

His soul was carved from the very source of light, from pure crystal, radiating its brilliance upon everyone he met. It is said of Hershel of Ostropol that he came into the world to amuse Rabbi Boruch of Medzhybizh (the grandson of the Baal Shem Tov) who, as we know, was prone to depression. Reb Binyamin's task in this world was even greater – it was to comfort and encourage, as well as to bring joy and entertain. Yet he himself was a poor man, living in penury.

When his daughters came of age he could not even provide them with a dowry. Yet, in the way of Hasids, he forcibly drove away sadness in order to fulfill the injunction to always be joyful.

He was a man of simplicity and innocence, pure of heart and filled with love for his fellow man. He always hastened to greet all who came his way, even gentiles encountered in the marketplace and infants in their mothers' arms.

Simchat Torah was spent singing and dancing, usually in the company of children. On Purim he conducted the festivities. The little ones adored him. Despite his white beard he had the soul of a child.

He was hardly ever at home. Instead he could be found comforting a mourner, or making people happy by fulfilling a mitzvah, dancing (usually on the table) in the heavy boots he wore all year round. In winter you might see him carrying a barefoot child on his shoulders. This was his neighbor's son, who had missed Torah study in the cheder (elementary school) for several days because he had no shoes to wear. As soon as Reb Binyamin heard of his plight he rushed to succor the little one. This was typical of this modest, elderly man, always looking to help others, quick with a word of advice or encouragement, eager to extricate fellow Jews from trouble.

There were no paved streets in Shumsk, only muddy lanes in which one could sink up to one's knees. Here and there a few stones had been scattered haphazardly, but they were not of much use since they were either placed too far apart or else were sharply pointed. It required a great deal of skill to pass safely from one side of the street to the other. Anyone unfamiliar with the street, a small child, for example, could not hope to jump successfully from one stone to the next. They would end up sprawled full-length in the mud, to the raucous amusement of onlookers. Strangers could sometimes be seen standing for some time in one spot, calculating the best way to cross, then taking one hesitant step followed by another, by which time they would find themselves stuck in the mud, unable to move. Bereft of ideas, they would not know how to proceed.

To their astonishment they would suddenly feel they were being lifted and carried. Before they knew where they were they would find themselves standing on solid ground on the other side. Next to them stood a Jew with a shining face who continued on his way in his heavy boots without waiting for a word of thanks. More than one such traveler would be convinced he had seen the prophet Elijah in the town of Shumsk.

Every man has his hour, and so it was with Reb Binyamin. The man who had spent his life doing good deeds was now called upon to do something with all his soul and all his might. It was during the terrible days of persecution inflicted on our town by the Flying Battalion, a marauding band of spies who sought young men who were hiding from conscription.

Reb Binyamin's home was too small to conceal these army evaders. He felt it was his duty to share in the travails of the hidden youngsters but there was nothing he could do. And yet …

In his neighborhood there lived a poor family, two of whose sons were hiding from the army during the First World War.

One night the Flying Battalion descended on the town in the middle of the night. There was no time for the two boys to hide in Rabbi Beirinyo's cellar.[1] The father ran from place to place, desperate for a solution, with Reb Binyamin at his side, encouraging and comforting, as usual. Members of the Battalion had already forced their way into the first houses in the lane.

Suddenly Reb Binyamin had an idea. His eyes gleamed.

“Listen to me,” he said to the father. “Bring the boys to my house, dressed in their Sabbath clothes. Bring a couple of bottles of wine and a few baked goods as well. Invite everyone you meet, bring them all with you. But hurry!”
The father stood still, dumbfounded, waiting for an explanation. He feared the old man had lost his senses.
“Why are you standing there? Do what I tell you. Your sons' lives depend on it.”
Although frightened and confused, the father nevertheless rushed to follow his instructions. Meanwhile Reb Binyamin ran home and ordered his wife and two daughters to spread a white cloth on the table, light the Sabbath candles, and dress themselves in their best clothes. The girls gazed at him, stunned, but he insisted. “Time is short and lives depend on us.” He himself donned his Sabbath kapote )long coat worn by men on festive occasions) and the special hat he wore only on the Sabbath.

The neighbor arrived, along with his two sons and a number of people he had encountered on the way. Shaken and bewildered, they seated themselves around the table and waited for an explanation. Gradually all was revealed. Reb Binyamin seated the two young men next to his two daughters, saying, “We are now conducting a wedding. You two” – indicating the young men – “are the bridegrooms. And you, my daughters, are the brides. The rest of you are the parents of the grooms and the invited guests.”

He himself grabbed a bottle and began to sing and dance. A few minutes later the uninvited guests turned up. “What's going on here?” they demanded fiercely. “A wedding,” replied Reb Binyamin, still singing and dancing. He seated them at the table, uncorked the bottle and poured them each a glassful. The uncircumcised ones, who, as we know, are very fond of wine, asked no questions, but drank several more glassfuls, which their host kept pouring generously. Nor did he stint himself and his other guests, singing and dancing all the while. Whenever he noticed one of the Battalion attempting to speak to one of the grooms he would interrupt either with another glassful or by dragging him into the dancing circle. The spies, their faces aflame, danced with everyone, until their leader passed his hand over his forehead and announced, “Back to work.” They all left, accompanied by the good wishes of the celebrants, who continued to dance for some time, alert to the sound of the marchers, whose departing footsteps could be heard creaking on the packed, frozen snow.

Then a hush fell on the room, the candles were extinguished, and everyone filed out, until only the two “brides” were left, embarrassed and mortified, while their father continued to sing and dance.

[Years later, at the beginning of the German occupation in 1941,] according to people from the Shumsk ghetto who survived the Holocaust, a number of German and Ukrainian rioters fell upon Reb Binyamin, who did not react until one of them came close to him and grabbed his beard, intending to cut it. Then the old man reached out his bony hand to clutch at the hand holding the knife. The rioter seemed to freeze. The knife fell from his hand and he fled. The others fled as well, terrified of the elderly man and the white radiance of his face.

They did not see him collapse, felled by a stroke, never to rise again.

May his memory remain with us forever.


Translator's Footnote

  1. The hiding place in the home of Rabbi Yisroel Dov Ber Lerner, known as Rabbi Beirinyo, and Rabbi Berinyo's role in hiding draft-dodgers, are described elsewhere in this yizkor book, for example, the chapter beginning on page 188. Return


[Pages 207-210]

Efroim Goldenberg

by Chaim Rabin

Translated by Shulamit Berman z”l

Notes: Chaim Rabin (1910-1990) was editor of the Shumsk Yizkor Book and many others. See the biographical note with the Editor's Foreword at page 345. He was one of the many grandchildren of Yaakov “Kovka” Berensztejn, a wealthy grain merchant in Shumsk. Chaim and his parents, Dina (Goldenberg) and Uziel Rabin, lived in Lanovets (now Lanivtsi), but during World War I when there were battles in the Lanovets area, Chaim and three other Berensztejn grandchildren were sent from Lanovets to live in their grandparents' home in Shumsk. Thus Chaim Rabin got to know his grandfather's accountant, close friend and daily Talmud study partner, Efroim Goldenberg. Chaim Rabin's parents perished in Lanovets in the Holocaust. For more about the Berensztejn family, see “My Hometown Shumsk” by Sarka Berensztejn-Fiks beginning on page 347 of this yizkor book. Efroim Goldenberg's daughter Rivka (Goldenberg) Ehrlich contributed the chapter “From Shumsk to Tel Aviv” beginning on page 415 of this yizkor book.

Efroim Goldenberg1 never managed to turn his vast intelligence to his advantage. He was obliged to make it available to others in order to earn a living. However, seeing that intelligence is not rare, especially among Jews, his salary was poor, despite the excessive knowledge he was endowed with.

It was only with Kovka Berensztejn, a talmid chacham (scholar) who happened to be the wealthiest man in town, that Efroim managed to strike a pretty good bargain.2 For Kovka it was heaven-sent, because while he was blessed with initiative, Efroim was the brains of the operation. Kovka had only to give the slightest hint for Efroim to do what was needed; he laid the groundwork for the structure drawn up by Kovka.

The two were close friends. They took their mutual esteem for granted. Efroim would often stay in Kovka's home to fill in when then latter was away on his numerous and extensive business trips. Not only would Efroim attend to the business matters, he also made sure the children did not skip their lessons; and he saw to it that the daughter in Lanovets remained virtuous by sending her letters or postcards in which he hinted obliquely that she should return to the home of her parents, Kovka and his wife, not because of any danger or sickness, God forbid, but because it was a more seemly course of action. Everything was merely hinted at, in order to avoid causing pain or alarm, but always with the emphasis on what was most pressing and desirable. This is also how he managed his own home and family.3

At first he instilled fear in us [Berensztejn's grandchildren] because of his hooked eagle nose and the slanted, close-set green eyes through which he peered from under the thickets of his eyebrows. We were scared to approach him or speak to him. His hoarse voice, which could clearly be heard when he spoke to Grandmother in the kitchen, terrified us. It sounded like the growling of beasts.

But one day it happened that Efroim decided to stop being harsh with us. Our grandfather vented his rage on us whenever we disturbed his deep contemplation of business or his deliberations about a page of gemara which he planned to tackle in the evening. Efroim decided to change the atmosphere.

We grandkids spotted the change immediately. We realized that he was always thinking about us; we were the apple of his eye, worthy of warmth and affection.

Since that time he would hold us on his lap, rock us and tickle us until we roared with laughter, and he enjoyed it just as much as we did. Efroim suddenly changed from a wicked, child-hating tyrant into our closest friend who, had he not needed time for himself, would have been plagued by us morning, noon, and night. Such was the power of Efroim, who had the ability to set boundaries to ensure that nobody came closer than the permitted distance at the permitted time. And so it was with us kids as well.

As we grew older we were astonished at this mixture of practical, pedantic wisdom and unfettered geniality intertwined in this one man. We tried unsuccessfully to solve the riddle through psychology; there was no basis for his behavior in any of the sciences. But finally we realized that it was a combination of bitter, Jewish depressive reality that sucks the dirt from the soul, dries it out, and transforms it into a fierce intelligence. It served as a barrier against the harm that could come from loving one's family and children, as well as a barrier against the historical harm that comes from being a Jew. Not only was this combination possible, it was one and the same thing, and in his mind there was no contradiction.

Thus he was the archetype of the Jew, in command of his destiny yet surrendering to it, inviting trouble yet impervious to it, able to bear the bitter burdens of the present by virtue of the glorious past in the face of a future shrouded in uncertainty, but destined to dissolve and vanish.

On the face of it he occupied himself with day-to-day matters, but in truth eternity was enfolded in these everyday activities – the eternity of Israel, destined to emerge through Israel's day-to-day survival. It was essential to make the effort, to survive, because the purpose of this survival was crucial both for man and the world as a whole.

Efroim was a man of challenges. Not only the challenges he faced when he was threatened, but those he deliberately sought in order to prevail over them.

Each meeting with a landowner was an encounter between a forsaken, orphaned Jew and a nobleman, planted firmly in the ground that was the foundation of his strength. In each encounter Jewish victory was in doubt, but nevertheless Efroim prevailed in all their many meetings.

It once came about that Efroim Goldenberg went to visit a landowner to help broker a very lucrative deal for Kovka, worth thousands. He was carrying with him 3,000 rubles, which in those days was the equivalent of $3,000 or maybe more. The landowner received him warmly and consented to all the conditions, which, according to the custom of the time, were made verbally. Within an hour the deal was done. Efroim handed over the agreed-upon sum. Then something shocking happened. The landowner, wanting for once to taste victory over the formidably clever Jew, extended his right hand to Efroim in parting, with his left hand clutching the money deep in his pocket, and said: “Dear Reb Efroim, I am delighted with the deal. I understand that tomorrow you will bring the 3,000 rubles so we can finalize it.”

Apparently the gentile was exploiting the fact that they were alone without witnesses to deny that he hadn't received the money. How could Efroim prove it and get the money back? Kovka's money and Efroim's honor were at stake.

For a moment he was so shocked that his wits deserted him. Then he rose from his chair, apparently in agreement, thanked the man profusely for all his goodness, and departed with every appearance of happiness and good cheer. The nobleman was elated, if somewhat surprised by his easy victory, but before he could recover Efroim was back. He had left his walking stick behind and came to retrieve it. “And by the way,” he added, “May I remind his honor to send a receipt for the 5,000 rubles you received.”

“What do you mean, 5,000 rubles!!! You yourself counted out 3,000 rubles!” The enraged nobleman pulled the money out of his pocket, threw it on the table and ordered Efroim to count it again.

“Count it, swindling Jew, and don't tell me there are 5,000 rubles when there are only 3,000.”

That's all Efroim needed. He gathered up the money without counting it, put it his pocket and left.

The deal with the nobleman didn't go through. Efroim returned the money to its owner, and all the man's appeals to renegotiate fell on deaf ears. He burned his bridges the moment he tried to go up against Efroim Goldenberg.

There isn't enough room to list all the achievements of Efroim, this powerhouse of wisdom and ingenuity, but one more incident will be related, because it can serve as an example for future generations.

Some “true friends,” the kind who always seem to be looking out for others yet whose altruism conceals an element of spite, came to inform him that one of his daughters had been seen near the river in immodest clothing. Her neck and back were exposed, as were her arms and her knees.

The “friends” hoped to make him angry, but Efroim refused to be provoked. He pointed his eagle nose at them and casually said, “Nu, what can be done.” But he didn't forget.

That evening he called his family together as usual. In the course of conversation he said to his daughter, “Chavaleh, I want to ask you a riddle. What do you think I'm holding in my fist?”

Chava tried to guess. “A gold coin for our mother? No – a diamond. A wristwatch for me?”

Finally she asked her father to open his hand and show her the treasure. To her astonishment there was only a crumpled, worthless scrap of paper.

She was very disappointed. What was the point of this prank? Efroim laughed. His laughter spread to his green eyes and thick eyebrows, his hooked nose, the corners of his mouth, and his cheeks, hidden beneath his abundant beard.

“That's how it is – if something's wrapped and concealed, people think it's a treasure – gold or diamonds. But when it's revealed, the world sees that it's only a scrap of paper and of no value at all.”

He paused for a moment before continuing.

“So why am I telling you this? It's all about exposure. It's not clever or useful. The strength of a modest Jewish daughter lies in concealment, Chavale. It's your own business what you do, but do it wisely.”

Just a small example of his wisdom. There's no room here for more.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. The author used the surname Goldberg but descendants say it was Goldenberg. One or two of Efroim's children, however, did use the name Goldberg. Return
  2. Efroim Goldenberg and his wife, Krintche (Krizelman) Goldenberg, moved from Belozerka to Shumsk because Kovka Berensztejn offered Efroim a job as his accountant. Return
  3. Krintche and Efroim Goldenberg had 12 children. Five of them married into other Shumsk families: Wilskier, Krakowiak, Chusyd, and Geler. Most of them came to Palestine but five perished in the Holocaust. According to a family tree supplied by a grandchild, those who perished were Zvi Hirsh Goldenberg (born in 1890), along with his wife, Gitel (Wilskier), and their six children, Miriam, Pesia, Shlomo, Lipa, Malka, and Frida, as well as Miriam's husband, Yosef Chusyd, and Pesia's husband, Yaakov Chusyd; Briena (Goldenberg) Geler (born in 1895), along with two of her three children, David and Natan; twins Tsherni and Leah (born in 1912); and Mika (born in 1897), along with Mika's husband, Benyamin “Buzi” Krakowiak, and their children Reuven, Tzvia, and Zipora. The other children of Krintche and Efroim Goldenberg were Bat-Sheva (Goldenberg) Zamir (1909-1988), Max Goldberg (1892-1990), Malka (Goldenberg) Chiger (1907-1990), Rivka (Goldenberg) Ehrlich (1908-2008), Chava (Goldenberg) Gertner (1903-2013), Zioma Goldberg (1899-1977), and Sarah (Goldenberg) Zucker (1902-1982). Return


[Pages 211-213]

Yisrael Sudman

by Yitzhak Geler

Translated by Sandy Bloom

Note: In this chapter Yitzchak Geler tells about the manifold activities of Yisrael Sudman in both Shumsk and in Eretz Yisrael, especially in helping other people from Shumsk who arrived after the Holocaust. Sudman himself wrote about his arrival in Shumsk and his life and activities there, on pages 129-135 of this yizkor book.

 

szu211.JPG
Yisrael Sudman

 

I knew Yisrael Sudman when I was still a child. My father1 used to take me with him to prayers on Shabbat and holidays in the Oliker Kloyz shul, where my grandfather Matisyahu davened, as did my cousins Hersh and Yoel.

We enjoyed going to this synagogue because of its warm, supportive atmosphere that allowed children to attend even if they were occasionally noisy during the prayers or Torah-reading. I have particularly fond memories of the High Holidays: the Rosh Hashanah prayers, Kol Nidre on Yom Kippur eve, blowing of the shofar, and the other festivals too. To us children, Simchat Torah and its dancing was most special of all. Sudman was the one who led the dancing and organized the young people to sing Zionist Hebrew songs, while dancing the traditional dances, until the late hours of the night. This was not done in the other synagogues in the vicinity.

I came in contact with Yisrael Sudman a bit later when he worked as bookkeeper in the Shumsk bank. At that point in time, I had to work to help pay for my tuition in the Tarbut school. So, after school was over, I worked in Mottel Chazan's pharmacy and as part of my duties I was sent to the bank, where I used to see Yisrael (he worked together with Yehiel Kanfer). I was a bit jealous of Yisrael's work.

Yisrael Sudman was known for his love for Eretz Yisrael. He was committed to any and all projects connected to national, Zionist, Jewish causes, including Keren Kayemet and Keren Hayesod.2 I myself was a member of the Hechalutz Hatzair youth movement.3 Sometimes I would accompany my older cousins - Dov, Moshe, and Motel Geler,4 members of Hechalutz - in their visits to the Sudman family. The Sudman home acted as a magnet for people to gather, hear words of Torah, enjoy cultural and Zionist activities and work on projects to raise money for the Keren Kayemet or Keren Hayesod.

I left Shumsk long before World War II broke out, went to Warsaw to study in the Teachers' Seminary, and from there to a Hachshara training program in Grochov.5 That was followed by the terrible Holocaust years. I finally reached Eretz Israel in the summer of 1947.6

It was very important to me, first of all, to visit relatives, friends, even acquaintances. One day I went to visit the Lerner family; I had kept in contact with them through letters over the years. They received me warmly, and relieved my loneliness as an oleh chadash (new Israeli citizen) who was just starting to adjust myself to life in Eretz Israel. It was there, in the Lerner house, that I also met Yisrael Sudman again.7

Yisrael had aged and now looked older than his years. He was greatly distressed over the fate of his family that had been torn apart during the Holocaust, and of the Jews who had remained in Shumsk and were murdered by the Nazis. Yisrael, who had always held himself erectly, was now slumped over, as if accepting defeat. His once-happy eyes were now sunken, and emitted pain and sadness. Premature old age had taken its toll on him.

But Yisrael was very happy to see me, and would often ask me to tell him about the years that had passed during the war; who was left, who remained alive? And would they come, would they make aliyah,8 and when? I paid many visits to the modest Sudman home, on Gedera Street at the corner of Allenby in Tel Aviv. Yisrael spent much time helping me with my studies in economics and mathematics. At the time, I worked in the Finance and Accounts Division of Neve Oved near the Agricultural Center, and I needed professional instruction -- which I received from Mr. Sudman. He even provided me with appropriate textbooks, so that I would be able to function appropriately at work. Meanwhile his wife, Sarah, would serve us tea and all kinds of delicious homemade baked goods.

I would also visit him in his place of work, in the Central Bank Ha-Poalim on Montefiore Street in Tel Aviv, which was also close to my place of work. There I would find him bent over a pile of accounts of customers of the bank, rapidly making interest calculations in his head. He was faster than the younger workers who used newfangled, speedy calculators.

I was always amazed to see how sharp he was at work. He also had many wonderful character traits; at work he was thorough and in-depth, meticulous and devoted, honest and faithful.

We often talked about the situation in the country. He was heartsick over the situation in Israel at the time: the multiplicity of political parties and the divisiveness, instead of the unity and love of Israel that should have prevailed after the Holocaust.

In our conversations, I learned to respect his personality, his opinions, his strong faith and his beliefs. He hoped to continue his various activities for the unity of Israel. This included his own home, which he built in Tel Baruch with a space for a synagogue. Yisrael hung a sign at the entrance gate to the synagogue that said Kol Yisrael Haverim (All Jews are friends).

Yisrael was active in founding an organization of Shumsk people in Israel. He was also one of the initiators of a benevolence fund for this group. All these gave him much satisfaction and a much-needed break from his ordinary work in the bank. He guarded very penny of the fund, and ran it strictly. I recall that at one of the meetings, I was elected (together with Shraga Weissman) to the inspection committee of the Gemach (free loan) fund. We inspected the account and I was amazed at the way that Yisrael insisted on listing the account activities in a simple notebook. We tried to convince him to buy better and bigger notebooks, but he did not agree with us. It was against his worldview and ethics.

Yisrael corresponded with my father, who remained in Russia. The two of them had been friends back in Shumsk; they shared memories of the shul. I used to forward Yisrael's letters to my father, who was happy to receive them and were a source of encouragement to him in a foreign country.

My father wanted to make aliyah to Israel. After many requests and repeated efforts, the Soviet authorities allowed my father to leave the country on May 12, 1965, and move to Israel. When Father arrived, he inquired into the fate of the other Shumsk survivors in Israel and especially of Yisrael Sudman and his wife. He was very sad to hear that Sudman was no longer alive.

On May 25, there was a memorial ceremony for Sudman. Father implored me to accompany him to the ceremony in Kiryat Shaul. There, in that cemetery, Father recited the Kaddish for the ascent of Sudman's soul.

May his memory be for a blessing.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Yitzhak Geler's father was Chaim Geler, who wrote “How My Son and I Survived,” pages 365-368 in this Yizkor Book. Return
  2. Keren Kayemet and Keren Hayesod were national funds for rebuilding a Jewish homeland. Return
  3. Hechalutz (Heb.) -- Literally, youth pioneers. It is the name of a worldwide movement, founded in Odessa in the first decade of the 20th century, of young people who were preparing for pioneering immigration to Palestine and later the State of Israel and were planning to settle the land. Return
  4. More about the Geler family is in the translator's footnotes to “The Zionist Underground in Soviet Shumsk,” pages 117-122 in this Yizkor Book. Moshe and Motel Geler are in photographs in that chapter. Yitzhak Geler's brother Yaakov Geler wrote “Shumsk at Her End,” pages 66-79 in this Yizkor Book. Return
  5. Grochuv was located in a suburb of Warsaw, Poland. Return
  6. Letters that Yitzhak Geler wrote to Shumskers in Palestine about his experiences before, during and after World War II are found in the Shumsk Yizkor Book, pages 329-342. As of the time of this chapter translation, the letters have not been translated to English. Return
  7. Yisrael Sudman's daughter Esther was married to Pesach Lerner. Return
  8. Aliyah (Heb.) -- Literally, ascent; used to refer to immigration to Israel from the Diaspora. Return


[Pages 214-216]

Yisrael Sudman

by Yaakov Viner

Translated by Shulamit Berman z”l

Note: The author of this article, Yaakov Viner, spent just one week in Shumsk, in the summer of 1934 on a mission for a branch of the Zionist Organization. Clearly he was impressed by the people of Shumsk, especially Yisrael Sudman, who immigrated to Palestine not long afterward. Yisrael Sudman (1881-1964) is also described by Yitzhak Geler on pages 211-213 of this yizkor book, and his picture appears there. Sudman himself wrote about his life in Shumsk on pages 129-135.

 

As secretary-general of HeHalutz HaKlal Zioni (General Zionist Pioneers) in 1933-34 I traveled the length and breadth of Poland. When the time came for me to visit Volhynia, I also had the opportunity to spend a week in Shumsk.

I found a quiet town with many shops awaiting customers. It was clear that there were not many wealthy people here. Material hardship was everywhere in evidence. Yet at the same time, there was a general sense that Shumsk was a town of Zionists. Many of the young people were attending hachshara1 preparatory to making aliyah.2 The town's Zionist organization was well developed and included youth movements –and what really won my heart was the large number of Hebrew speakers in the town.

Another thing: the Diaspora had not left its mark on this little town. Whereas in other places alien influences had poisoned local Jewish life, here I found a warm Jewish atmosphere in the synagogue, in the school, and in the organized activities for the national funds. Despite the fact that Jewish suffering could clearly be felt, there was growing Zionist awareness. The new spirit of Eretz Israel hovered above people's thoughts and actions.

 

szu214.jpg
The kibbutz and members of the branch, before the Zionist Congress elections, Shumsk, July 22, '38

 

I remember one evening at the local branch of HeHalutz HaKlal Zioni when people of all ages gathered together and sang in Hebrew that their yearning for a beautiful future was pouring forth like ancient wine when a bottle is uncorked. I beheld a powerful group of dreamers/fighters aspiring to a better future, mighty in their justness, willingness, and desire, albeit small in number.

In the heart of Shumsk, amidst the gentiles, their strong desire burst forth: “We will go up to Zion …”

* * *

I happened to meet Yisrael Sudman and spent a few unforgettable days enjoying his hospitality and basking in the Zionist atmosphere of his home.

The year was 1934. The summer was glorious, the days were bright, and the sun spread its warmth over the land.

Yisrael Sudman was a humble man, modest, quiet, and withdrawn, yet he radiated serenity and kindness. At the same time, he was energetic, alert, and swift. He had many virtues, served as cantor in the synagogue and fulfilled every task with fervor.

Sudman was exemplary in his zeal for justice and charity. He was dedicated to the needs of the community. He was known to be completely honest in all his business dealings. He was devoted to Zion and Zionism with every fiber of his being, and for many years he headed the public Zionist activities in Shumsk.

His home, like that of our forefather Abraham, was open to all, offering lodgings to anyone who earned his esteem through love of Zion. He was especially honored to host emissaries from Eretz Israel, making every effort to make their stay pleasant and to extol them in public.

He labored tirelessly to supply every need. He worked for every educational institution, yeshiva, and charity organization in Shumsk. His pure Jewish heart overflowed with love for humanity.

He was blessed with a noble character, sincerity and common sense. He was popular with everyone. He set aside time for Torah study.

All his life he aspired to be among the builders of the homeland and indeed, he merited to achieve his dream.

* * *

Upon his arrival in Eretz Israel [in 1934] he opened his warm heart to the generations who were paving the way for a great and independent land. He lifted his gaze to the horizon; his spirit embraced its timelessness.

He exulted in the inner freedom of the homeland he had yearned for, the freedom of a traditional lifestyle, the people who were free in spirit and soul to withstand the trials of time and struggle.

Sudman's heart rejoiced to see the dream of generations being fulfilled before his eyes, yet he never abandoned his concern for others. Unlike most of the businessmen who stopped working for those from their hometown when they arrived in Eretz Israel, Sudman continued to assist everyone from Shumsk, believing that “whoever saves one life saves the world entire.” He was instrumental in initiating the organization of Shumskers in Eretz Israel. He established a charity organization for Shumsk survivors after the Holocaust and was also active in the international organization of those from Volhynia.

* * *

Yisrael Sudman worked as a bookkeeper. However, he elevated the profession by relating to it not merely as a matter of adding numbers and balancing accounts, but as a science governed by specific laws, invented by trustworthy Jews to ensure that honesty would be safeguarded.

Like everyone else, he endured the trials and tribulations attendant upon making aliyah, but eventually he found his place in Bank Hapoalim and nobody could have been happier.

From the outset he was popular with his colleagues. His modesty, honesty, painstaking attention to work, and efficiency set an example for others.

He was relatively old when he began working at the bank but when the question of his tenure came up, it was unanimously approved. He was granted tenure with the full benefits usually only offered to younger employees. In his case the management and workers committee deviated from the norm. They did not judge him by his age. This was truly a mark of respect.

Yisrael Sudman was one of the modest people who generally walk at the side of the road and yet illuminate brightly by virtue of their shining personalities. There are so few such people in our materialistic world. He was like the last of the Mohicans of Eretz Israel's romantic period, which is lost forever. With his clarity of thought and his sentimental soul he represented the earliest members of the Zionist movement. His eyes, glowing softly with pleasure, and the aura that surrounded him, testified that Sudman had a beautiful soul.

He was humble and modest, yet lively, animated, and very active.

He had a Jewish heart – a heart that understood and felt the pain of others.

This is how I, a visitor to Shumsk, saw him when I stayed in his home, observing him and his many good deeds. This is how I saw him here in Eretz Israel.

Yisrael Sudman deserves to be remembered as a beautiful man.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Hachshara (Heb.) Literally, preparation. The term refers to training activities, and the special farms where they took place, that hechalutz (pioneers) undertook to prepare themselves for the life they would live after emigrating to the Land of Israel. Return
  2. Aliyah (Heb.) Literally, ascent; to make aliyah is to immigrate to Israel from the Diaspora. Return


[Pages 217-218]

Alter Yukelson

by Dvorah Schneider Sachish

Translated by Shulamit Berman z”l

 

Szu217.jpg

 

Notes: Dvorah (Shneider) Sachich was born January 1, 1921, in Kremenets, then in the newly established Polish Republic. Her father, Moshe Shneider, was a forester and lumber merchant and a prominent member of the Jewish community in Kremenets.

Dvorah's mother, Tzipporah (Chazen), was the sister of Mordechai Chazen, the president of the Jewish Community of Shumsk. The Shneider family home in Kremenets was located in a large courtyard that included additional homes of the extended family. Among them was the home of Dvorah's paternal uncle Tzvi Shneider, who at an early age immigrated with his family to Eretz Yisrael and settled in Afula. Dvorah was the youngest of three daughters. Her sister Sonya married, immigrated to Eretz Yisrael and was the first kindergarten teacher in Afula. Her sister Freida followed. All three sisters were members of the Hashomer Hatzair youth movement in Kremenets.

Their parents planned to make aliyah after their daughters were settled in Eretz Yisrael, and they sent Dvorah to Palestine in 1939. She reached the port of Haifa just before the Soviet army entered Poland and all the borders were closed. Dvorah never saw her parents again, and for the rest of her life she carried the pain of their fate.

In the early 1920s Dvorah's father had donated a building in the courtyard of his home in Kremenets for the use of the local Tarbut School. Before she was old enough to attend elementary school, Dvorah insisted on being allowed to sit in the classroom. She was fluent in Hebrew when she immigrated to Eretz Ysrael. She completed her studies at Meshek Poalot, the agricultural high school in Tel Aviv, but unlike classmates who left the city to join a kibbutz, she stayed in Tel Aviv. She worked odd jobs and was an active member of the small, persecuted Communist Party. Soon she volunteered for the British Armed Forces and served three years in the Egyptian desert as an airplane technician in the Women's Auxiliary Air Force. Her sister Freida was a truck driver in the British transport force of the Auxiliary Territorial Service.

In 1944 during a furlough from the military, Dvorah married Zev/Walter Sachish, who had immigrated from Germany. Shortly before their wedding, Dvorah discovered that as a boy Zev had spent a few years at the home of Dvorah's grandmother in Kremenets. In the 1950s Dvorah studied social work and worked in the Hatikva neighborhood. In the 1970s she established a department for volunteers helping Tel Aviv welfare clients, and she headed the department until she retired. In 1971 she was appointed a member of a special government committee, headed by Dr. Yisrael Katz, to investigate poverty in Israel. The committee was established as a result of public outcry about poverty and the ensuing movement of the Black Panthers.

Dvorah died in July 1917 at age 96; she maintained outstanding clarity of mind until the end. The memory of her murdered family and the sights and life of her youth in Shumsk and Kremenets accompanied her until her last days.

Ever since I can remember, he fascinated me, and even today in my mind's eye I see him clearly, lively and endearing as ever.

My uncle Alter Yukelson stood out among the other interesting people in town because of his dynamic personality, which was expressed in his diverse activities on behalf of the town's many institutions. Since he was well-versed in the customs and laws of Judaism, he was often called upon to arbitrate in disputes. He was recognized as an authority on literary works that had been translated into Russian, as well as Russian literature. He was as knowledgeable about the modern world as he was about religious tradition. As far as he was concerned, religion and tradition merged in the simple philosophy that constituted the message of Hasidut, and nothing spearheaded true movements of the people like Hasidut. He was imbued with universal moral concepts. He understood people and he loved all God's creatures.

Even when his sight began to fail he continued to take an interest in literature. Sometimes it was religious jurisprudence, ethics and legends, other times it was Hebrew books dealing with thorny issues in the Jewish world, then it was Hebrew, Yiddish and Russian novels. My uncle always had a book with him, whether he was eating or sitting in his small haberdashery shop. It happened on more than one occasion that a customer who entered the shop while he was reading failed to distract him from his book. The customer would express his surprise at the Jew who valued his book more than his livelihood. His wife Bayla1 never scolded him, out of her deep respect for him.

Under the czar he served as a lance corporal in the Caucasus region. Since Alter was the only soldier in the entire regiment who could read and write in Russian, he was appointed official reader of the czar's orders for the whole five years that he served in the army, as was customary at the time.

He was very good at composing poetic descriptions and he expressed his feelings in his letters, so much so that each letter was a kind of literary composition. Destitute people begged him to describe their travails in letters to their generous relatives in prosperous America. It often happened that men and women would sob as they poured out their sufferings. They would mumble through their tears that until they began the letter they themselves had not realized the true extent of their suffering. The letters bore fruit, and people heaped blessings on my uncle's head for the help they obtained through him.

My uncle was active in public affairs, but he did not do so for profit, whether as chairman of the local branch of the Zionist Organization,2 head of the Zionist foundations, or manager of the Gemilut Hasadim and Linat Hatzedek charity funds. He invested limitless energy and initiative in every endeavor.

Motel Chazen was in charge of the charity organizations, and my uncle was his senior advisor.

You could see them sitting for hours in Chazen's pharmacy, quietly discussing ways to succor the destitute. My uncle often served as cantor in the synagogue and also lobbied for the town's needs. He once traveled to Warsaw and met with T. Prelucki, the Jewish activist, asking him to intercede with the authorities who had issued an edict to tear down the shops in the marketplace. The fact that he succeeded became a byword in Shumsk. Private petitioners also asked for his help with various issues. By dint of his vast understanding and personal charm he was able to obtain a positive outcome for many people.

Alter Yukelson was very popular, an easy-going conversationist who enjoyed a good joke. He was equally loved by young and old; when he walked down the street he was usually surrounded by a cluster of people who would burst out laughing from time to time as he threw out a lively quip or a witty remark.

He was a considerate man with no personal flaws. He was a lover of truth, which endeared him to everyone in town.

He was a methodical and progressive teacher. Even as a child I valued the moral and human virtues that guided him.

The two major events in his life were his emigration to America in 1906 and his return in 1912, followed by his leaving Soviet Russia in 1920 and returning to Shumsk.

He explained his return from America by saying that it was very hard for him to adapt to the constant pursuit of money and profit, and the materialistic atmosphere of America. As an idealist, it was hard for him to tolerate the attainments of American society at the time. His instinctive opposition to these values drove him back to ailing Europe, which was full of spiritual values and human aspirations.

He explained his return from the Soviet Union with a well-known joke: If Barefoot Luzhka (Bosiak) is mayor of Odessa, there is nothing for Alter Yukelson to do in Russia. He predicted the collapse of the regime long before many others anticipated it.

My uncle was spared from witnessing the end of the Jewish community. He passed away before the catastrophe of Passover 1940, while Shumsk was still part of Russia after the treaty with Germany.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Bayla, born in 1884 to Sara and Yaakov Chazen, perished in Shumsk in the Holocaust. She owned a grocery store. Return
  2. In a document dated 1934, prepared for and submitted to the Polish police, Alter Jukelson is listed on the page of officers of the Zionist Organization of Shumsk as the previous president. His birth date is givcn there as 1872. The president at that time was Srul Sudman, who was born in 1881, and the other officers in 1934 were born in the 1890s and 1900s. Return


[Page 219]

Nachman Milman

By Zvi Ravitz (son-in-law), Ra'anana

Translated by Shulamit Berman z”l

 

szu219.JPG

 

Notes: Nachman Milman was born to Enja (Presser) and Yosef Milman in 1866 in the town of Oleksinets. He moved to Shumsk in 1895. He married Etil Glinik (also called Eta), and the births of three of their children are recorded: Yaakov Hersh or Hertz, also called Hertzik, born on March 12, 1900; Rachel, born January 8, 1902; and Etil, born March 27, 1903, and named for her mother, who died in childbirth.

They called him Nachman the Wise, because that's what he was – amazingly shrewd and clever. Whenever there was a dispute between two parties in Shumsk, they would appeal to Nachman to arbitrate, and his decision was always accepted.

As a rule, the Shumsk rabbi would only tackle a complicated din Torah1 between two partners if Nachman Milman was at his side.

In his private life Nachman Milman was sorely put to the test. He had to rebuild his house three times.2 When his three daughters made aliyah3 he wanted to follow them, and in 1937 I sent an entry permit for him and his wife. However, when it became clear that his beloved son Hertzik would be unable to accompany him, he postponed his journey until Hertzik could join them.

By this time the Holocaust was upon them. He was killed, along with the entire Shumsk community, and his beloved son died with him.

May his memory be for a blessing!


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Din Torah: (Hebrew) legal dispute before a Jewish court or rabbinical jurisdiction. Return
  2. By this the author means that Nachman Milman was widowed and then remarried three times. Return
  3. Aliyah: (Hebrew) Literally, ascent. The term is used for the immigration of Jews from the Diaspora to the promised land, the Land of Israel. “Making Aliyah” by moving to Israel is a basic tenet of Zionism. Return


[Page 220]

Hertz (Hertzik) Milman

By Zvi Ravitz (brother-in-law), Ra'anana

Translated by Shulamit Berman z”l

 

Notes: Yaakov Hertz Milman, also called Hertzl or Hertzik, was born in Shumsk in 1900 to Etil (Glinik) – also called Eta – and Nachman Milman. Especially beloved and admired by the youth of the town, he was a member of the Zionist Organization of Shumsk.

We cannot speak about Shumsk without mentioning Hertzik [Milman]. He wasn't a prominent activist, but he was involved in every Zionist activity, whether it was the Funds, Hechalutz (Pioneers), culture, or in fact anything in public life. No general assembly in Shumsk could be held without Hertzik either opening it or making a speech. He was always working behind the scenes, while taking care not to give offense to the town's Zionist leaders.

Everyone admired him. Even his political adversaries were always careful to speak of him with admiration and respect.

Every home, every crowd, was enhanced by his presence. Prominent people would have been honored to have him marry their daughters, if Hertzik had so desired.

 

szu220.JPG

 

There are not enough words to write his entire biography. In stoic silence he bore his private misgivings and suffering, sharing them with no one. When he finally began to think of establishing a family, he was swept up in the war and the Holocaust.

We, his family here [in Israel], hoped he would manage to escape. When the war ended and those from Shumsk who were plucked from the fire began to arrive, we hoped that Hertzik would be among them. But alas, the dreaded tidings arrived swiftly – Hertzik had perished along with the holy community of Shumsk, and we were bereft.

His memory will always dwell in our hearts and in the hearts of all those who knew him.

 

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