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[Pages 221-223]

Our Rabbi, Reb Yossele -- and Sports

by Shalom Freider

Translated by Rachel Karni

Translator's notes:Shalom Freider, the son of Yisrael and Eitel Freider, was born in Shumsk in 1906. The events in this chapter took place in the mid-1920s. The author emigrated to Eretz Yisrael in 1930. His children are Benyamin Hofshi, the late Shmuel Frehar, and Yisraela Freider Aloni. Along with extended family, they were among those instrumental in the erection of a new fence around the Jewish cemetery in Shumsk in 2008. Rabbi Yossele was Rabbi Yosef Rabin, who is the subject of the Shumsk Yizkor Book's next chapter, “The Last Rabbi of Shumsk” by Aharon Wertheim (pages 224-225).

Sports in our town began as usual with football1. The team was established during a conversation between friends. It was with great effort that we outfitted the team with uniforms. I was chosen to be the team captain and I visited Kremenets2, learned the rules of the game from Moshke Margolies, of blessed memory, and after some time our team decided we were prepared to be put to a test.

We invited the “Hakoach Kremenets”3 for a game against the “Shumsk Maccabees” and our town was bubbling over with joy and excitement. The boys on the team walked around town like clowns at a circus in their strange, outlandish outfits, dozens of children encircling the spectacle. Thus a week of intensive practice passed and we were all tense, awaiting the Shabbat on which the game was to take place.

That Shabbat I went with my father to the synagogue as usual, but exactly at 10 o'clock I snuck out of the “kloze”4 and went to the football field for our final practice. All the others on the team did the same. We didn't want our guests to know about this final practice and we kept it secret.

The Kremenets team had come to our town the day before. We put them up at the hotel of Shimon Sipker, and according to the rules we, the host team, bore all of the expenses.

In the middle of our practice session a young boy, overcome with fright and highly excited, burst onto the field and said that Rabbi Yossele was approaching the field along with all of the worshippers from the synagogue. They don't want their children to play football on Shabbat, to sell tickets for the game, etc., and they want us to stop the game.

I felt awful. I didn't know what I would say to my father. I was terribly distraught and it even crossed my mind that I should escape, hide, disappear.

But the boy looked squarely at me and stated his message: The Rabbi requested that I come to him.

I ran in the direction of the Rabbi. He stood alone, far from all of the other members of the congregation, smiling broadly, his face glowing with the sacred light of the Shabbat.

 


[Shalom Freider, far left, standing,
and other members of the Shumsk football team]
5

 

My knees shook and my mouth was dry. How would I begin? But he spoke first and said:
“Promise me that you will not hold the game on Shabbat. Do it to honor your parents, who are all strict observers of the Shabbat, and your ancestors who, for generations, have been ready to forfeit their lives but not to desecrate the Shabbat. And on Saturday night, please come to see me.”
And with these words he left me.

I too walked away, now calm and submissive. I told the team that I had decided not to hold the game. We would postpone it to Sunday, I said, but the problem of the expenses troubled me. The shops were closed on Sunday, but who would come and pay for a ticket? Who would come to see a game in the middle of the week?

It was decided to ask our guests to remain another day on the pretext that on Shabbat people would not come to watch the game, and that would be a pity. I was ashamed to tell them the true reason. In Kremenets there were football games only on Shabbat.

On Saturday night I took the captain of the Kremenets team with me and we went to the home of Rabbi Yossele.

He sat at the head of the table, majestic, his heart and his face beaming and exuding warmth. Next to him sat the leaders of the community, Mr. Efraim Goldenberg, Mr. Benyamin Shochet, Reuven Chaim Niskis, and others.

I had prepared myself to be chastised harshly and I trembled. These men, all of whom I knew, were forceful and knew how to express their opinions. I trusted the Rabbi. He would defend me.

* * *

To this very day I remember that evening.

Again, it was the Rabbi who began to speak:

“You -- Shalom, the son of Yisrael,” he said, “you have been most privileged to have been chosen to be the captain of the Jewish sports team of our town. Today you did a great thing -- you saved us from a most terrible shame. You did not allow the boys to desecrate the Shabbat in public, to grow wild, to sell tickets and to become exhausted.

“You understand,” he emphasized, “to become exhausted! Shabbat is a day of rest and one must not get tired out on it. I am sure that as a reward for this you will be a healthy young man and you will succeed in all that you do.”

And then he turned to the captain of the Kremenets team:
“You see what wonderful children we have raised in Shumsk! Children who are marvelous. Young people who are not cheeky, who respect their parents. Learn from them. Return to Kremenets and tell them what happened and stop desecrating the Shabbat. Playing football itself is not so terrible, but with the game go the sale of tickets and smoking in public, and this is not worth doing.”
The others present added their comments, and their words were mostly criticism and preaching. When they had concluded the Rabbi bent down toward me and asked if we had a deficit. “Of course, your team has to bear the expenses,” he said. “Tell me how much money you have lost and I will find a way to make up the deficit.”

I got mixed up, felt embarrassed and thus remained silent. And then the Rabbi added, “Nu, don't worry. After the game tomorrow you will know and tell me. I have money prepared to give to you, so don't be ashamed and let me know.” He rose from the table, tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Nu, kids, go on and may you win! Don't bring shame on our town. Play with spirit and do the best you can. And tomorrow, if you have a deficit come to me and, G-d willing, you will receive the amount you need to cover it all.”

* * *

The next day a miracle occurred. It was Sunday and the shops were all closed. The market was quiet and the streets were empty. Suddenly at 9 o'clock in the morning the streets filled with people. They stood in small groups and spoke only about the forthcoming game. They all spoke about sports, waiting for the hour the game was to begin and asking about the price of the tickets.

When I reached the football field at 2 o'clock it was bursting with spectators. The ticket sellers were overwhelmed with work and they soon ran out of the tickets that we had prepared. The respected elders of the town, the leadership, older women and young teenage girls all thronged to the football field. We had to purchase ordinary receipt books and sell them as tickets.

The game became an important event. We lost goals, but we did not lose money. The income covered everything and our team's budget was suddenly enriched.

* * *

I don't know if I told about sports in Shumsk in this article or about our beloved Rabbi Yossele. Now that I have finished it seems to me that sports was not the main thing here. Things like this happened and are still happening.

But when I remember this incident and the reactions of Rabbi Yossele, I feel that I have told about a man who was, seemingly, completely devoted to dry Jewish law, yet notice with how much understanding of the needs of the youth of the town he was blessed, and with how much wisdom and tact he extinguished fires between generations -- fires which, handled differently, could lead to destruction of a Jewish community.

May the memory of Rabbi Yossele remain with us.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. To Americans, soccer. Return
  2. Between World War I and World War II, Shumsk was in the Kremenets district of Poland. The city of Kremenets is about 18 miles west of Shumsk and is the largest nearby city. Return
  3. Hakoach literally means "the strength" in Hebrew and it was the name of a thriving international Jewish sports organization to which the Kremenets team belonged. Return
  4. Kloze: a small prayer room Return
  5. The original yizkor book has no caption with this photo. Shalom Freider's son Benyamin Hofshi identified his father in the picture Return


[Pages 224-225]

The Last Rabbi of Shumsk

by Dr. Aaron Wertheim

Translated by Shulamit Berman

Note: Rabbi Dr. Aaron Yitschak Wertheim (1902-1988), a scholar and rabbi, was born in Europe and lived in the United States. He was a brother-in-law of Rabbi Yosef “Yossele” Mechel Rabin and a great-nephew of Faygele (Wertheim), wife of Rabbi Yisroel Dov Ber “Beirinyo” Lerner of Shumsk. Dr. Wertheim and his wife, Rachel, daughter of Rabbi Aharon Rabin of Lanovits, are buried close to the entrance of the Sanhedria cemetery in Jerusalem in a plot with other Wertheim and Rabin descendants. Rabbi Yosef “Yossele” Mechel Rabin is among the family members who perished in the Holocaust whose names are inscribed on the gravestones there. Another remembrance of Rabbi Yossele Rabin, written by Shalom Freider, appears on pages 221-223 of this yizkor book.

The late Rabbi Yossele Rabin,[1] may his blood be avenged, the last rabbi of Shumsk, was the son of Rabbi Areleh[2] of Lanovits. He was a son-in-law of Rabbi Mordechai of Shumsk.[3] Rabbi Yossele was the scion of a renowned dynasty of rabbis among those who established and led the Hassidic movement. On his father's side he was a seventh-generation descendant of Rabbi Zvi, the son of Israel Baal Shem Tov of Medzhybizh. On his mother's side he was descended from Yechiel-Michel, the magid[4] of Zolochiv, and the rabbis of Nasrid and Korets.

 

 

From early childhood this pure, God-fearing soul devoted himself to his studies. He was taught by his father, who, in the manner of the early Hasidim, made his home a meeting place for those who did not wish to send their children to study in distant yeshivas, preferring to educate them under the watchful eye of their parents and teachers.

While still in his youth he was as proficient in the Mishna and commentaries as many illustrious rabbis. He went on to study with his uncle [by marriage] Yisroel Dov, the rabbi of Shumsk, who was known to all as Rabbi Beirinyo.[5] During the First World War Rabbi Beirinyo devotedly hid many young men, preventing them from being conscripted into the army of Tsar Nikolai and having their lives endangered in the terrible war.

Rabbi Yossele embodied the adage of the sages: “Most sons follow in the footsteps of their mother's brothers.” Indeed, like his uncle and teacher, he was notable for his simplicity, his humility, and his love of all mankind. In return he was loved and respected by all who knew him. He merited to fill the rabbinical position of his uncle in Shumsk.

Rabbi Yossele was a son-in-law of his uncle Rabbi Baruch [Yosepov][6] of Dubno, a descendent of the Korets and Berezne lines of rabbis -- and he was privileged to have a true helpmeet in his wife, the Rebbetzin Hasya. Like him, she was generous and openhearted, and their door was always wide open. They had four fine, precious sons, but did not get to raise them because they, together with their parents, perished in the Holocaust. May their blood be avenged.

To my regret I am unable to provide details about Rabbi Rabin's rabbinical achievements, because thousands of miles of land and ocean lie between us. But we do know that Rabbi Yossele attended the rabbinical assemblies of Poland and the Volhynia region, and that he was fully aware of the problems facing religious Jewry. In particular he strove to teach Torah to the younger generation. To this end he established a religious school for the greater glory of Torah.

We mourn his loss but he will never be forgotten.

 


The youngest child of Rabbi Yossele,
who perished along with his entire family

 

Translator's Footnotes
  1. Rabbi Yosef “Yossele” Mechel Rabin Return
  2. Rabbi Aharon “Areleh” Rabin Return
  3. Actually, Yossele Rabin was married to Hasya Yosepov, a granddaughter of Rabbi Mordechai Lerner, who was the rabbi of Shumsk for over 35 years. Another of Mordechai's grandchildren, Rabbi Shmuel Halevi Yosepov, wrote about his grandfather on pages 185-187 of this yizkor book. Return
  4. A magid is an itinerant Jewish preacher. Return
  5. Rabbi Yisroel Dov Ber “Beirinyo” Lerner (1867-1919) was the eldest son of Rabbi Mordechai Lerner. After Mordechai's death in 1907, Beirinyo succeeded his father as the rabbi of Shumsk. Beirinyo had a sister, Yocheved. Rabbi Yossele Rabin was married to Beirinyo's niece Hasya Yosepov, daughter of Yocheved (Lerner) and Rabbi Baruch Yosepov. More about Rabbi Beirinyo is on pages 188-192 of this yizkor book. Return
  6. Rabbi Yossele Rabin's mother, Chaya Yusa (Lerner) Rabin, was a sister of Yocheved (Lerner) Yosepov, wife of Rabbi Baruch Yosepov. Thus Yossele and his wife, Hasya (Yosepov), were first cousins, and Baruch was Yossele's uncle by marriage as well as his father-in-law. Return


[Pages 226-229 Hebrew] [Pages 372-375 Yiddish]

Sarah the Righteous

by David Chazen

Translated by Noam Gissis and Rachel Karni

Note: David Chazen, the youngest child of Sarah (Bermler) and Jacob [Yaakov] Chazen, was born in Shumsk and immigrated to the United States, as did some of his siblings. One of his brothers, Mordechi “Motel” Chazen, a pharmacist who remained in Shumsk, was the head of the Shumsk Jewish Community in 1935-36. David himself was the treasurer of the American Shumsker Relief Society, which held a benefit dinner for World War II refugees in March 1946 at Garfein's restaurant in Brooklyn, New York. A journal published for that banquet shows that the massacre of almost all the Jews of Shumsk in 1942 was not yet known to the people attending the dinner. A few years later at another meeting of the Shumsker Relief Society, recent immigrants Fayge and Yosef Mednik related the events of 1941 and 1942 in Shumsk; their account was written up by David Chazen's brother Muni Chazen and appears on pages 358-364 of this yizkor book. Immediately upon learning of the tragedy, David Chazen reacted with a great effort to help the Holocaust survivors, those who settled in Palestine and those who went to live in other places. The original edition of this yizkor book, written in Hebrew and Yiddish, was dedicated to David Chazen and his wife, Rosa, for their generosity in providing funds for the publication.

I was a kid when I heard them calling my mother “Sarah the righteous.”

Our town Shumsk, like other towns in Volhynia, was famous for being full of pious, modest Jewish women who dedicated their youth, beauty, love and enthusiasm to their family and the people around them. They gave the best years of their lives to the community and to the Jewish people. I think our town had a lot of women who could have been called “righteous,” but only Sarah got this moniker.

When I grew up I asked people the reason for this and from their answers I figured out my mother was unique. She was special and had something that you don't find in others.

* * *

When I was still a child I used to wake up at the first light of day and my mother was already far from our home. She would arise very early in the morning and, feeling responsible and committed as if she were going to a paid job, she would hurry out of the house. She would approach a hut, open the narrow door quietly and enter the house silently so as not to awaken the poor, sick woman who lived there. She put the chicken wings that she had brought with her into a pot, added water and cooked some chicken soup which might restore the woman. She then gave some instructions to the members of the family about how to care for the woman when she awoke ... and left the house.

She hurried because this was not the only sick person she visited at this time of day -- and she had to get back to our home in time to dress us -- her children-- give us breakfast, say a few words of encouragement to each and send us to school, to the cheder. And she also had to prepare breakfast for our father, may he rest in peace, because he was not to blame that his wife Sarah was worried to death about every poor sick person. He was also worthy of her attention before he left for work. One has one's responsibilities.

When she came home -- always on time -- she had a smile of satisfaction on her face. She managed to hug each of us as she gave us our breakfast, dressed us and sent us school. At this point my father had already left for work and she remained alone at home and was now able to think about the other sick people she cared for.

* * *

My father knew his wife's weaknesses and was ready, like every loyal husband, to provide everything that was required to fulfill her wishes. If in other families' cases the wife wanted jewelry, the husband would buy his wife necklaces or earrings. In my mother's case her “weakness” was her need for money that could be used to help those she cared for. and my father provided the funds

At summer's end, before and after Rosh Hashana in the period when Selichot are recited, she needed pots full of sugar and buckets full of plums and berries. At this time of the year she could be seen sitting in the middle of a circle of people who were helping her, her face flushed from the heat of an enormous boiling pot of fruit, making jams, jellies and marmalades. The day after the cooking of the fruit she would wake up at dawn, fill jars and bowls, plates and small containers with the different types of fruit and give it to the poor, so they might have some comfort in a difficult moment. Some of them said her visits and concern helped them in their moments of loneliness more than the jam. Her words helped them to feel better and they looked forward to speaking with her and hearing her words of comfort even more than they looked forward to eating the sweets.

* * *

Every day of the year had its own duties for Mom. This story about the preparation of jam was typical of the period when Selichot are recited, but the period before Passover and the spring had different tasks, and she made sure to recruit the whole house to help.

Actually preparations for Passover began in the winter, around Chanukah time, with the first frost. She used to get around 40 geese, and make sure to fatten them. The geese were kept in special cages where my mother force-fed them so that they would get very fat. Each day she spent hours getting them to eat so that she would get a lot of fat for the many poor, pale, undernourished children in town. She felt that, with God's help, she had to get those Jewish children healthy, physically and mentally, so they would grow up, study Torah and help their parents make a living.

After the 14th of Adar (the date of Purim, a month before Passover) the fattened geese were ritually slaughtered and it was then that we were all busy skinning the geese, cutting up the goose meat into pieces and cutting the huge piles of goose fat into yellow shiny cubes. My mother used to fry (and brown) the pieces of skin together with onions and there was a light shining from her face. She filled pots and jars, and running to the skinny kids to feed them she would say, “Take this, my dear child, my soon-to-be-a-Jew, spread a matza with onion and fat and pieces of fried skin and enjoy Passover, the holiday of freedom.”

We (her kids) waited for months for the appointed day when she would fry the fat and we would enjoy the grease and smell of the frying and especially the taste of the fried skin bits. It was a sweet-salty smell, and I was looking forward to it, but when it was ready first she filled her jars and left to feed “her” hungry kids.

Afterwards, for weeks there were skinned frozen geese hanging from the beams of the attic, waiting for her to finally cook them.

Mom, we loved you very much, for in addition to your own children you loved every suffering child and spread your motherly wings on all of them. Only a “Yiddishe Mama” is capable of this.

* * *

There is a saying, “Everything comes to a person though heredity and is passed on through heredity.”

My mother, Sarah the Righteous, had a mother who was like her. Our grandma was called by all in the town of Radzivil where she lived, “Deborah the well-born.” The people of her town could probably write a lot about her. I personally remember staying in her house and she too used to wake up very early and slip out of the apartment “to care for the needy.”

On Thursday nights she went to from house to house to “order” challahs from housewives for poor people. When we asked her, “Grandma, you are wealthy. Why don't you buy challahs for the poor people?” she would answer, “One does not buy a good deed, one does a good deed. In addition a person shouldn't be selfish and do all the good deeds alone. One should help others to participate in the doing of good deeds and thus merit the rewards.”

And so by heredity my mother acted in the same way.

I'm a little bit ashamed to talk about myself for when it comes to heredity a man is not able to testify about himself. But I do feel that I owe the following to my mother and grandmother. When Passover eve in New York is approaching I become restless. So I use my car and distribute matzos to needy people. I started with three packages years ago, and today, thank God, I am able now to distribute 150 packages of matzos, chicken and potatoes. I put the package in front of a door, knock and say, “Please come to the door to take the matzos in,” and then hurry away.

I am sure that doing this is the influence of my mother and grandmother.

I loved my father and respected him. People say that he deserved a lot of honor. He had a big part in my mother's good deeds because he supported her activities and provided the funds she needed.

Thanks to him we all enjoyed those good deeds. But why do I talk more about my mother? Because something fateful tied us together:

There were seven children in our family, and I was the youngest. When my mother felt that her life was getting close to its end, and she was still young at the time, she used to hold me in her bed, scared that something that she had done had hurt her baby. Maybe it was the thought that she did so much for other kids and less for her own. It was then that she dedicated a lot of time to me, many precious hours. One night she said, “Children, I'm going. My time is coming. I don't want my baby to lie til the morning near his mother's dead body.”

That night, her last one, when she felt that she was dying, she woke her children up and made my older brother take me downstairs while I was still asleep. She told him to make sure not to wake me up. A few minutes later she returned her pure soul to Heaven. Hence, there's still a special connection between us.

* * *

We should always remember our mothers. This way, we'll be better people and leave our children an important true inheritance.


[Pages 230-233]

Binyamin Shochet

by Chaim Rabin

Translated by Shulamit Berman

 

Notes: On page 204 of this yizkor book, an acronym indicates that Binyamin Shochet 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 and his brother Yitzhak are also recalled as teachers of religious studies.

The author of this chapter, Chaim Rabin (1910-1990), was the 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. 

 

Behind Grandfather Kovka Berensztejn's magnificent home with its multitude of windows, far to the left, lay a pool of smelly, green, stagnant water infested by millions of winged creatures and other insects. It is said that once a church stood on this spot, its crosses thrusting up into the sky in defiance of the Jews who lived here. The Jews could not tolerate the insult – the arms of the crosses seemed to pierce their eyes a dozen times a day on their way to the market, to the school, the synagogue, the shops, or to Rajch's river.[1] It was especially upsetting for one righteous man who requested, before he died, that his body be carried past the church. The Jews were shocked, but deathbed wishes must be fulfilled. As the funeral procession passed the church, the body, wrapped in its shroud, suddenly rose up, eyes blazing, and its lips uttered the words “Lord of the Universe, make this place an abomination” before it fell back upon its bier.

At that moment the earth opened up and … Since that day this place has been a teeming swamp.

So they say.

It was frightening to cross the quagmire or even to pass it by. Grandfather, who was extremely rich, made a very high fence around his large yard and along the length of the swamp, but it could still be seen through cracks in the boards. During the day they said it was a lesson to the gentiles who had proudly established their church where the Jews lived. But at night crosses could be seen in the middle of the stinking swamp and carved faces appeared, threatening and angry.

So the swamp remained and nobody ever purchased it to build a house, for example. Slowly people moved away because they were afraid.

Only one small, miserable shack remained standing calmly by the swamp. It was the home of Binyamin Shochet.

He was tall and broad-shouldered, but very thin from lack of food. He was the only man who was not afraid to build his home there, to live, raise twelve daughters (he never merited sons), to spend his nights in that desolate spot, and to make time for daily prayer and study.

Had he been a gentile he would surely have been called Ivan. He would have devoted his large build to gluttony, eating copious amounts of meat, enjoying his bodily strength, and scaring everyone in the vicinity. But he was born a Jew, and for a Jew bodily strength may come at the expense of strength of the soul. Whoever succeeds in blurring the distinction between the two is to be praised. One who is blessed with bodily strength should at all times be aware that the body is merely the vessel of the soul.

Reb Binyamin was humble and modest. He was both happy and sad. His favorite utterance was: a mechaye, s'iz mir gut, vos sein mir nisht gut (a pleasure, it's all good, although things aren't so good).

In other words: “What do I lack? I have brought only daughters into the world, which in itself is a sign that I have not opposed the will of the Almighty. That's what He wanted and I do not rebel against Him. Do we lack bridegrooms? That's true, but who am I that I should help Him see to it. No doubt He will arrange it. All is good, and I do not sin by taking too much pleasure in this goodness, for I know that everything comes from Him and nothing is mine. I have no control over this goodness which He may take from me at any time. It is this fear, that He may take this goodness from me, which absolves me from taking too much pleasure in this world.”

Not many fowl were slaughtered in his district, and he wasn't always paid for those he slaughtered. He found himself with time on his hands. Since it was not seemly for him to sit at home in the company of his wife, he sought some other pursuit. He would pass the time listening to the discussions of Torah scholars or take pleasure in watching children rejoicing in their Yiddishkeit (Jewish way of life).

He came to us[2] frequently. First he would engage in conversation with Grandmother on the subject of marriage dowries, then he would try to extract a little more money from Grandfather, over and above what he himself contributed. Then he would go for a walk with Aunt Sarke,[3] who, as was fashionable among young people in the 1920s, had gone to study at a distant gymnasium (Heaven forfend!). She wore boots and a Cossack-style fur hat. His purpose was to somehow dilute her assimilationist tendencies (Heaven forfend!) with a little Yiddishkeit, to save a Jewish soul, especially since she was the daughter of Kovka Bernstein, who was so preoccupied with matters of wealth that he had no time for his children (Heaven forfend!).

He made sure to direct the conversation in pleasant directions. Not admonishing, not preaching, not imparting his seemingly more enlightened wisdom, like someone scattering largesse. This is how he generally shared his wisdom with others.

He was particularly fond of children. He loved talking to them. They didn't see him as an old man but a kind of child himself, always happy to spend time with them.

This was most evident on Simchat Torah, when Reb Binyamin Schochet would hoist his festive kapote )long coat worn by men on festive occasions) like a gentile woman hoisting her skirts before scrubbing laundry in the river, so it would not get in his way while he cavorted and danced his way from Rabbi Beirinyo's synagogue to the open space between Kive Schprecher's tavern and Shaike the Wagoner, followed by children from all the synagogues. He was like an oak planted in their midst while they danced around him like tiny shrubs. Every now and then he would look around and bellow “holy flock” and the little ones would respond “baa, baa” like a true flock of sheep. When he reached the open space he located a table from somewhere, jumped up, and began an improvised dance, gesticulating wildly, while the children sang and danced around him. His enthusiasm was so infectious that nobody could remain indifferent. The women rushed out bearing kugels (noodle or potato casseroles) and duck thighs that had been browned in the oven. Then everyone began gorging themselves until they were satiated (this only happens in company – those who stay alone indoors don't usually eat with such gluttony).

Shumsk could not forget those days of Simchat Torah. He was honored by the slaughterers attached to Rabbi Beirinyo's synagogue and by the other guild of slaughterers as well, because Reb Binyamin made no distinctions between the opinions or status of others, he was never stubborn or inflexible.

I believe it was for this reason that his first son-in-law merited an income and his own congregation. It came about as follows:

Zacharia, a tall, strapping yeshiva student with black curls and a sweet voice, fled to Shumsk to avoid being snatched up for army service. There was no room in Rabbi Beirinyo's cellar, so he was told to seek refuge with Reb Binyamin, whose miserable one-and-a-half-room shack already housed thirteen women – his wife and their daughters. But Reb Binyamin discerned the strength of his future son-in-law and a match was made between his lame daughter and the swarthy young man.

It was an unforgettable wedding. The whole of Shumsk was there, glowing with happiness and singing Reb Binyamin's praises. They did not disperse until dawn, when Reb Binyamin collapsed, almost insensible from so much dancing and singing.

The following day, when the two men woke up, tired and listless, Reb Binyamin said, “Nu, my dear Zacharia, time to go to work. Go to Lanovits! You will be received by their guild of slaughterers. I don't have anything else. I haven't even discussed it with the head of the congregation, but I'm certain that the Almighty will make them favorable to you and you will start slaughtering there.”

Many people vied for this position, but nobody could refuse Reb Binyamin, because he never refused anyone. To him, everyone was equal.

When the gabbaim (sextons) in Lanovits later tried to recall how it came about that the position was given to a young man who was not from their community, they would say: “He inherited it from his father-in-law.” Zacharia was for Lanovits what Reb Binyamin was for Shumsk – the chief agent of plain, popular Yiddishkeit and the chief organizer of Simchat Torah in town. We in Lanovits know very well that we only merited it through the bright radiance of his father-in-law's spirit. Shumsk was blessed with a great Jew.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Avraham Rajch's mill on the Vilya River supplied Shumsk with electricity. Return
  2. “He came to us” means he came to the home of the author's maternal grandparents, Kovka and Edis Berensztejn, in Shumsk. The author, Chaim Rabin, a native of Lanovits, lived with these grandparents intermittently. Return
  3. The author's aunt Sarka/Sarah Berensztejn-Fiks wrote “My Hometown Shumsk,” beginning on page 347 of this yizkor book. Return

[Page 234]

A Candle for Moshe Sztejnberg

by Rachel Vardi

Translated by Shulamit Berman

 

Notes: In Hebrew this poem is in rhyming couplets. The author, Rachel Vardi, was born in Shumsk in 1931 to Chana (Roiter) and Moshe Sztejnberg (son David Sztejnberg). Rachel's father was born in Shumsk in 1899. Rachel was named for her paternal grandmother, Ita Rachel (Grinszpun) Sztejnberg. In 1934 Rachel and her parents immigrated to Palestine. Rachel was a prolific writer and poet. She was among the Shumskers who visited Shumsk in 1991 to dedicate a memorial erected at the site of the 1942 massacre of the town's Jews during World War II. She died in 2018. Most of the extended Sztejnberg family of Shumsk perished in the Holocaust, including Zecharya Sztejnberg, a brother of the author's father; Freida, the second wife of David Sztejnberg; and Rivka, Teibel and Shayna, the three daughters of David and Freida, along with their husbands and children. A younger half brother of Moshe Sztejnberg, Yankele (son of David and Freida), survived and arrived in Israel after the Holocaust. An anecdote about Zecharya Sztejnberg appears on page 293 of this yizkor book in the final paragraph of “The Dramatic Group of Shumsk” by Rachel Feldger.

Oh, Father, you endured many hardships
When you were growing up.
The life of an orphan was not easy …
(I still feel this, even today)

You had barely emerged into this world
When blood and pogroms afflicted you.
A student in the town of Odessa,
You knew success would be difficult.
That's when you decided
To make Aliyah to the homeland.

Filled with joy and a thirst for life
You raised your glass in a toast to life.
With the great energy that was your trademark
With redoubled love and constant devotion,
You cleaved to the idea so close to your heart,
The love of Zion and of building your land.
Your burden rested lightly on your shoulders –
My mother – the wife of your youth
And myself, the child of your heart.
Here we dwelt, here we lived
And it was enough. We got up and went.

You envisioned a bright future
A pioneering life, building villages and towns,
Earning your bread by the sweat of your brow
That's why you came, you arrived, you made Aliyah.

Yes Father, you were a simple laborer, hauling bricks for tall buildings
On your delicate shoulders –
But when you came home at night with your meager pay,
No one on earth was happier than you.
The clock ticked, its hands moved,
One year passed and then another,
My grandparents joined us
(my mother's parents)[1]

You took them both into your home
And now you bore a heavier yoke

You provided them with food and a roof over their heads,
That's how the whole family lived.
Your fortunes as a laborer improved
Your vast talent helped you adapt
Meanwhile the two boys were born
(May they live and be well)
And the house became too small and crowded
There was a recession so there was no hope
Yet still you believed, as always
That we would have a more spacious home.
You overcame, you carried on, and finally
After eighteen years of work –
You made it to a fine home, with all appliances.
At last – we thought – it's time to rest.
But you were laden with debts
That robbed you of serenity and sapped your strength.
Six months later
Death visited our house.
Our dear grandmother died, the mother of our mother.
Our home was filled with sorrow, the bitter grief of mourners.
This is how your final year was spent
Drenched in sadness, filled with tears.
Until you fell deathly ill
Bereft of strength and energy.

* * *

May your soul be eternally bound upwards
A simple man, who lived and worked for others.
May the people of Shumsk remember you
As one of them, simple and clear
As one who had a dream and realized it,
Who dared and took action.
Who built a home until he collapsed.
Whose life was dedicated to building the State
Through honest work and understanding.


Translator's Footnote

  1. The author's maternal grandparents were Tova Gitel Roiter (daughter of Dvora and Yermiyahu Gerber) and Moshe Menachem Roiter (son of Lifsha and Yaakov Roiter). The Roiter family was originally from Kuniv and came to Shumsk in 1903. Return

[Pages 235-236]

The Two … and Others

by Rafael Sapir

Translated by Shulamit Berman

Notes: Rafael Sapir (the name originally was Sforim) was on the editorial board for this yizkor book and wrote several chapters, including “Rabbi Beirinyo,” about Rabbi Yisroel Dov Ber Lerner, beginning on page 188.

I will tell of two men of Shumsk. They were not heroes, nor were their names known outside of Shumsk, for they themselves did not think their deeds were in any way heroic.

In normal times the two would not have been noteworthy. One of them – Reb Leib Bereles [the son of Berel] was a learned man and a wealthy merchant. The other man, Yitzhak Chelbene,[1] was also one of the wealthiest merchants in the town. Yet when it came to a struggle for life and death, their stature was incalculable. It happened during the period between one regime and another, a time when Petliura's thugs[2] were running wild, while for over a year Sokolov[3] and members of the White Brigade carried out activities in the town. One gang went and another took its place. They were so numerous that we no longer knew their names. We only knew that they came to rob and plunder.

Whether it was early in the morning, in the afternoon or at night, they would pass through town like a raging storm. First we heard frantic footsteps, like the sound of panicked chickens – but they were the sounds of running men, women, children, even old men and women. A bullet was fired, someone stumbled as he fled. Someone else could run no more and fell into the hands of the murderer – to be raped and mutilated. In the middle of the street lay a body, his feet bare, a testimony to the ultimate indignity of being killed for his shoes.

Suddenly a hush fell over the town. Shutters were closed. Frightened eyes peered through the cracks. The streets were empty. Gentile hoodlums were beginning to gather on the corner. They carried sacks for the loot they would amass when the time was right. The only other creatures in the street were those that had the good fortune not to be born human – dogs, cats, the odd pig or two. … Suddenly a terrifying cry burst out. Frightened voices could be heard from houses on the edge of the town, where the raiders had begun raping and pillaging. We were shaking with fear. Who would save us?

Between the slats of the shutters two figures could be seen, striding through the empty streets – Leib Bereles and Yitzhak Chelbene. They were on their way to appease the leader of the gang, who were known as the Bolsheviks, by offering money to spare the lives of the townsfolk. They were in danger of being killed by any hoodlum who crossed their path even before they gained their objective, and even then there was no guarantee that their mission would succeed.

But since this had worked in the past they were willing to try again. They appointed themselves representatives of the people in times of danger. They did this not once or twice but many times, putting their lives in danger in order to save Jewish souls.

Whenever I think of them, I say a prayer in my heart: May the young people of today always be aware that the dynasty of heroism extends all the way from those who came before, the people of Shumsk. They were no less brave. May we and our children always remember them.

I cannot enumerate all those in little Shumsk who dedicated themselves selflessly to charitable works, because they were so many. There were also many youngsters who were involved with the Zionist organization and the Hechalutz movement. I will limit myself to lighting one memorial candle for them all:

Mottil Perel's [Mottil Segal, son of Perel] was a student of Rabbi Beirinyo and received rabbinical ordination from him. Mottil was a respected and dedicated activist. He worked tirelessly for the movement, promoted cultural events in the town, and was also a popular youth leader.

Hertzl Milman was the movement's pure, artless ideologue. He served as a leader of the Hechalutz youth movement, combining childlike innocence with the wisdom of a much older man. He inherited his innocence from his mother, and his wisdom from his father.

Mottil Chazen, the pharmacist. Although he himself was not well acquainted with Jewish culture, he devoted his energy and much of his time to helping establish the Hebrew Tarbut school in Shumsk.

Yisrael Ackerman, the scholar, worked as assistant to the pharmacist, but as time went on he found himself drawn to the teaching profession and dedicated himself, body and soul, to his new calling. Although initially he was not well versed in the Hebrew language and culture, he became proficient in a short time and was soon considered an excellent teacher.

[Mordechai] Mirmelstein the photographer, who headed the dramatic troupe, invested all his efforts and knowledge in establishing and developing the dramatic arts. His enterprise contributed a great deal to the town's young people. He also covered some of the expenses of several institutions.

Reb Hirsch Shuber was yet another interesting character. Having a very strong character, he took it upon himself to remain mute on Sabbath and holidays. On these holy days he refused to indulge in idle chatter and spoke only in the holy Hebrew tongue.[4] However, since he was not proficient in Hebrew, he essentially sentenced himself to total silence on those days which were meant for conversation with family and friends. I can only imagine his mingled joy and sadness at these times. When the Tarbut school was established his small granddaughters swiftly learned to converse freely in Hebrew, whereas he, Reb Hirsch Shuber, who spent his days in Torah and prayer, was unable to express himself in this language and was forced to stumble over single words, accompanied by many hand gestures to which were added numerous nods and shakes of his head.

May they all be remembered as great people. They each worked in small ways in the little town of Shumsk, and therein lies their greatness.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Yitzchak Chelbene was born in 1885 to Moshe and Bebe Chelbene. Yitzchak did well in his iron business. He married Leah, a daughter of Efraim Cap, and birth records show their children Moshe, born in 1912, Gita, born in1913, Yaakov, born in 1920, and Sara, born in 1923. When Russians entered the area as a result of the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, Yitzchak Chelbene and his family were exiled to Siberia along with others deemed “capitalists” by the Soviet regime. In effect this fate saved the lives of some of them. Although they were penniless and suffered under very difficult conditions in Siberia, a few members of the Chelbene family survived. Ultimately Moshe settled in Israel, and Sara, also known as Sonya, settled in Canada. Twelve members of the Chelbene family of Shusmk perished in Shumsk in the Holocaust. Return
  2. Symon Petlura (1879-1926) was a Ukrainian socialist politician and statesman, one of the leaders of Ukraine's unsuccessful fight for independence following the Russian Revolution of 1917. He was briefly the president of Ukraine during the Russian Civil War (1918-1922), when many deadly pogroms against Jews were carried out by soldiers under Petlura's command as well as by other forces involved in the conflict. Petlura was assassinated in Paris in 1926, and the assailant said he was avenging the deaths of thousands of victims of pogroms. The name is also commonly spelled Petliura or Petlyura. Return
  3. Various accounts of pogroms in Ukraine in this period refer to threats and attacks by the Sokolovsky band or detachment, or “Sokolovsky's men.” Sokolovksy's first name is not given. Return
  4. There is a custom among Jews not to discuss “weekdays things” on Shabbat or on holidays, and outside of the Land of Israel people tried to speak Hebrew at these times, which meant that one would talk about the weekly Torah reading or discuss religious topics. Return

[Pages 237-238]

Yossel the Barber

by Mordechai Gervitz

Translated by Shulamit Berman

Translator's notes: Mordechai Gervitz, son of Hana (Roichman) and Josef Fischel Gerwic, served as secretary of the Shumsk organization in Israel. He died in 1986. More information about his family is in the translator's note on page 96 of this yizkor book.

Yosef “Yossel” Leib Lerner, a son of Avraham and Esther Chana Lerner, was born in Shumsk in 1861. He married Rachel, a daughter of Feivish/Shraga Zinger, and they had a large family. Yosef Lerner's barbershop was located in a building owned by the father of the late Avraham Chusyd, who also related (orally, to the Shumsk Yizkor Book translation project coordinator) how this barbershop was a meeting place for teenage boys in Shumsk who were delighted with the stories that Yosef Lerner told. By the time of the mass murder in Shumsk in 1942, Yosef Lerner had died. (His name appears erroneously in the Shumsk Yizkor Book list of those killed in the Holocaust.) Yosef's wife, Rachel; their daughter Esther Chana, born in 1907; their son Eliezer “Leizer”, born in 1899, and Leizer's wife, Gitel, and their children perished in Shumsk in 1942. Leizer was a barber like his father.

Yosef Lerner was the first modern barber in town. He passed on his craft to many apprentices.

But he wasn't just a barber. He was a real character, colorful and wide-ranging. He was a respected businessman, involved with everyone and equally accepted by young and old. But above all he enjoyed relating stories and telling jokes.

His jokes usually accompanied the clash of the scissors he wielded around the heads of his clients, so that the sound wouldn't lull him to sleep between prayers at the Yarmelintzer kloyz (house of worship) at the home of Yeshaya Kac.[1] Yossel turned up there when it was time for Kiddush, and in fact he appeared everywhere like an invited guest, welcomed by everyone.

When I was a small boy I was the “victim” of Isaac Miller, who, apart from being a plasterer, also cut children's hair, visiting homes to do so. But when I grew older I insisted on my right to have my hair cut by Yossel, not so much for the haircut as for the stories.

I already knew him from the Yarmelintzer kloyz, where he was the life and soul of the place. He led the prayers with melodious tunes that gladdened the heart. He was the mainstay of the group studying Ein Yaakov,[2] and kept it going. He made sure there would be a shalosh seudot (third Shabbat meal) at mincha time, buying the small braided loaves of challah with his own money, ensuring that wine would not be lacking. It was he who drew Jews to the kloyz, for the most part just for the sake of conversation and the stories he told.

He told many stories, too many to recall, but each one had a moral, both profound and popular. They reflected the worldview of a Jew who, despite not boasting of being Jewish, enjoyed knowing that Judaism is better than other faiths, shaping strong figures who cannot be deflected from their steady march towards the eternity that is within man and his spirit, compared to the gentiles who are sometimes submissive to the spirit, beauty and supreme order expressed in their prayer rites, yet at other times they breach the boundaries of morality and ethics and descend to the lowest depths for a small momentary gain.

One story was about Katerina the Great, Empress of Russia, who – according to the story – loved visiting Shumsk and its environs. It was she who bestowed on the town the name Shumsk – which means the noise of dense forests – referring both to the surrounding forests and the clamor of the marketplace, teeming with farmers, who gathered to sell merchandise in Shumsk, spending days and weeks at a time gorging themselves and getting drunk.

This is how the story ends:

As a token of their gratitude to the loud Empress who loved noise and intoxication, the nearby farmers got together in Shumsk on her birthday to celebrate. In exchange, she set up brimming barrels of tar in the street for the farmers to smear on their boots and their wagon wheels. Policemen were standing by to keep order and ensure there were no skirmishes over the tar.

One farmer was smarter than the rest. What did he do? He waited quietly and when it was his turn he jumped feet first into the barrel, outwitting the policemen and getting a much larger portion of tar…

All well and good, except that it was only after strenuous efforts that he was extricated from the barrel, because his boots were glued to the sticky mess at the bottom.

If Jews had been involved in the escapade he wouldn't have told the story, but the fact that it happened to a farmer was very much in line with Yossel the barber's way of thinking as regards conduct, morals, and beliefs. It goes to teach us that Yosef Lerner was not a barber, he was a beacon, gathering rays of light and diffusing them. These and other lights illuminated the town of Shumsk and gave it its glowing soul.

I owed a debt to jovial, shining Yosef, and I have paid it.


Translator's Footnotes

  1. Yeshaya “Shayke” Kac survived World War II. In “The Last Days of Shumsk,” beginning on page 29 in this yizkor book, Ruth Sztejnman Halperin recounts meeting with Kac in the summer of 1943. In “My Last Days in Shumsk,” beginning on page 49 in this yizkor book, Haim Cisin also mentions him. Return
  2. Ein Yaakov is a 16th-century compilation of non-legalistic material in the Talmud along with commentaries. Return

[Pages 239-240]

Grandma Dvora Roichman

by Pesach Lerner

Translated by Rachel Karni

 


Dvora Roichman

 

Translator's notes: Pesach Lerner was born in Shumsk in 1901 and immigrated to Eretz Yisrael in 1921. Through his everyday contact with the large number of German Jews who arrived in Palestine beginning in the early 1930s and who settled in the very neighborhood of Tel Aviv where Pesach and his wife resided, Pesach became aware and convinced of the imminent dangers looming over European Jewry, even those as far away as Shumsk in eastern Europe. He devoted almost all the money he earned to purchasing immigration certificates for members of his and his wife's extended families -- and other Shumsk residents too -- and then to bringing them to Palestine, in effect saving their lives. Pesach Lerner's intensive activity in this regard was, unfortunately, exceedingly unusual. For more biographical information, see the translator's notes on page 199 of this yizkor book.

 

Dvora Roichman was Pesach Lerner's maternal grandmother. Pesach's mother, Malka (Roichman) Lerner, was one of Dvora's daughters. Another one of Dvora's daughters was Pesya (Roichman) Gercfeld. In the 1930s, Pesya was a young widow in Shumsk, and Pesach saw to it that Pesya and her two children got immigration certificates and came to Palestine too.

If there is truth to the saying that the world exists because of the merit of thirty-six unknown righteous people, it seems to me that our town Shumsk was blessed with a not-insignificant number of those thirty-six, whose entire lives were devoted to helping others and to the needy.

Without committing the sin of exaggeration I can include Grandma Dvora Roichman among those noble figures who have been a symbol of humanity.

Our writings state, “A person who saves one soul is considered to be one who has saved the entire world.” Grandma, in her actions, saved many more than one soul. She was not only our grandmother, she was the mother of her own family and of the needy families in our town. With her dedication, the goodness of her heart and her calmness she created an atmosphere of great joy and pleasure, which is hard to describe in words.

Grandma Dvora Roichman and other women in Shumsk like her became a distinctive institution and took upon themselves responsibilities and projects the like of which would have caused others to collapse under the burden. Not only this -- they not only carried out a program to give help of all kinds to the needy of our town but they worked with no office and no secretaries. All of their work was done in absolute anonymity, with no assistance from anyone else.

Among all of their various activities and good deeds was one which could not always be done in secret. As is known, it is customary to make the blessing over bread on Shabbat on challahs made from rather expensive white flour and not on the black bread which was eaten during the rest of the week; using black bread was considered a desecration of the Sabbath. Every Friday at dawn, in summer or winter, on days of rain or snow, when the mud was so deep that it enveloped the top of one's boots and reached one's knees, Grandma Dvora, wearing her white starched apron, would run through the town, gathering the freshly baked challahs still hot from the ovens and distributing them immediately to the homes of those in need, people who had no idea who the angel who had brought them this gift for the Shabbat was.

Grandma Dvora was wreathed in the splendor of holiness during her life in Shumsk but this full splendor became apparent in 1934, the year in which I was privileged to help her to immigrate to Eretz Yisroel, she then being 92 years old. Nothing detracted from her great happiness to be here in this land which had always been holy to her. Her first request was to visit the Western Wall and Rachel's burial place[1] and to touch their stones with her hands gnarled from long years of life. These stones were watered with the tears of generations of grandmothers like her. During these visits to the holy places she thanked the Creator for this great privilege which had been bestowed on her. It was as if all of the hopes of her life had been fulfilled and she could now die peacefully. It seemed to her that each additional day that she lived was a gift that the Creator had given her which she didn't merit.

She lived for two more years, during which time she did not forget the families in Shumsk that she had cared for -- and she worried whether someone was filling her place. As was her custom in Shumsk, she asked all of her new friends, acquaintances and the women who sat near her in the synagogue in Tel Aviv to contribute to the best of their ability to the needy in Shumsk, and the money she raised was sent there.

The merit of these good deeds stood her in good stead when her time to pass away arrived. Despite her great age she did not become a burden to her family. When she felt that she was about to die she lay down in her bed, closed her eyes and passed away. She was 94 years old.

At the head of her bed we found a sum of money which she had prepared to send to Shumsk but she had not managed to send it before she died.


Translator's Footnote

  1. In 1934 it was possible for Jews to reach the Western Wall and Rachel's grave, places which were closed to Jews from the 1948 War of Independence until the Six Day War in 1967. When this chapter was written, some time prior to the Six Day War, it seemed to most Israelis that these places would always be closed to us. Return

 

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