by Charna Katz Rabin
Translated by Rachel Karni
|Editor's Note: Charna Katz was born in 1916 in Lanovits and lived there. Her paternal grandmother, Teicha Katz, lived in Shumsk. Charna was the wife of Chaim Rabin, the editor of the Szumsk Yizkor Book and many others. Charna immigrated to Palestine in the 1930s and lived in Herzliya. She died in 2008.|
I couldn't pass up the opportunity to add a chapter to this memorial for the town of Shumsk, a town in which part of my family resided. My father of blessed memory, Leizer Katz, was born in Shumsk , and it was in this town that I found a warm welcoming home at my grandmother's house.
I came to Shumsk for the first time when I was 7 or 8 years old. My grandmother Teicha Katz loved her only son deeply, and because he was her only son she was very close with him -- and she also loved me. I was the only child of her son. I was as close to her as I had been to my mother, of blessed memory.
How was it possible not to love my grandmother? She was a regal woman, with a beautiful appearance and a beautiful soul. She was tall and slender like a tree, and had a pleasant personality. In spite of the fact that she knew very little happiness in her life, knew much suffering and even less luxury, she was exceedingly neat and clean and always satisfied with her portion in life.
My grandfather, Nuta, was a sensitive person, a God-fearing Jew, but he did not know how to support his family properly. According to his concept being a merchant meant cheating, and doing so was abhorrent to him. I am certain that the entire subject of providing for one's family did not interest him at all. He sat and studied and relied on his wife to provide for the family -- and he had her to rely on. She carried her responsibilities quietly and modestly. I thought she was perfect. I worshipped her because of everything I saw in her. I will never forget the period she spent in our home -- first because of the illness of my mother [Hinde], whom she treated as her daughter, and later after my mother's death.
During the period that my mother was ill, what didn't she do for her? She traveled with her to convalescent homes, cared for her with devotion, ran to the doctors and carried out all of their orders -- but all of this could not save my mother. When my mother passed away it was a hard blow for my grandma. She was as close to my mother as to her own daughters. In addition, she couldn't see my father's suffering, and she wanted to ease my pain, the pain of her orphaned granddaughter Charnushka -- and thus she took upon herself the responsibility of another house. At first she came to live in our home in Lanovits, some twenty kilometers from Shumsk. She said, Grandfather will manage somehow, and she remained in our house until she died.
It is hard to describe the energy she brought to my father's business. What didn't she do? She bought, sold, packed merchandise, made out the bills. After the shop closed each day she arranged its many shelves, put everything in order, and moved on to doing the household chores. She cooked, cleaned , made repairs, etc. After she did all this she still had the time to read the newspaper, because how could one go to sleep without knowing what was happening in the whole big world?
Her greatness was especially apparent in the way she worried about the needy of Shumsk -- people whom she did not forget even if she was not in town. Every time she came to our house -- and it didn't matter what was the season -- she would rest from the journey for a short time and then run to the clothes closets to check for chametz -- that is, she would take out all of my mother's dresses and mine that we hadn't worn for a long time -- no matter what the reason -- and she would make repairs if necessary, and if necessary would redesign the garment and resew it all by hand. She had hands of gold. After she finished the repairs she would package each garment for the needy of Shumsk. I remember how much time and thought she invested in each garment, all with her good taste. Each dress that she worked on was unique and was now in a different size. She was fully satisfied when everyone was satisfied with the package of clothing that she sent to one of her Shumsk friends, who saw to it that the dresses found new wearers. If I am not mistaken her friends were the rabbi's wife and Yehudit, the wife of Kovka Bernsztein.
This continued until shortly before she passed away.
One time my father traveled to Lviv for business. My grandma and I remained alone in both the house and in the store. That morning I went to school as usual and hurried home because I knew that she was alone. When I came home I didn't see anything unusual in her behavior or her appearance. Everything was as it always was. She managed to serve the customers in the store and then she came into the kitchen and served me lunch and everything seemed all right. I helped her in the store until the evening, when she said that she suddenly felt tired. She asked me to remain in the store to finish serving the last customers so she could lie down for a rest before returning to the shop. Suddenly, just before I finished dealing with the last customer, I heard a very loud sound on the floor. She had had a stroke, was paralyzed and had fallen from her bed.
I was overcome seeing my grandmother in this condition and being alone with her -- and I still a child. She suffered for eight days. I will never forget these days. Of course friends and neighbors came to be with us, and that very night my father was notified to return home, but I had had the first shock of seeing my grandmother in this condition, and I have never been able to forget it.
In the course of one week my grandma passed away. She was completely conscious all week even though she had lost the ability to speak. She functioned to the best of her ability. With her hands she described where she had hidden the income from that day before she lay down to sleep. Until her very last minute she saw to the care of our home. Such was the responsibility of a Jewish woman: as a woman, as a wife, as a grandmother.
It is not for nothing that we stand with bowed heads before the majesty of our forebears. If Jews bear ten portions of suffering because of their observance of Judaism, it is the Jewish women who bore nine of these portions. They carried the responsibilities of the home, of the family, of supporting the family financially and of caring for the needy. It is they who cared for the families who were the building blocks our nation.
One of these exemplary grandmothers was mine. May these words be a memorial for her.
by Tchiya Adler
Translated by Rachel Karni
|Note: Tchiya Adler (1934-2015), the daughter of Esther (Sudman) Lerner and Pesach Lerner, grew up in Tel Aviv in a home dedicated to Shumsk and the people of Shumsk. She was an active member of the Shumsk Organization in Israel her entire life. At one of the annual memorial meetings in Tel Aviv, Tchiya spoke about her childhood trip with her mother to Shumsk from Tel Aviv, adding many details that do not appear in this piece that she wrote in 1967 for the yizkor book. It so happened that Tchiya's mother discovered that she was pregnant after their arrival in Shumsk in 1936 and thus was unable to accompany her parents to Palestine as planned. Instead, Tchiya and her mother stayed behind in Shumsk, and it was more than a year later, with a baby boy, Yehuda, that they were able to make the trip. Yehuda Lerner himself served for many years on the committee of the Shumsk Organization in Israel.|
In the year 1936my grandpa and grandma (Sara and Yisroel Sudman) were preparing to immigrate [from Shumsk] to Palestine in accordance with the strong wishes of my parents.
My mother decided to use the opportunity to travel abroad [to Shumsk] herself in order to help parents to prepare for this journey and at the same time to visit with her extended family who had remained abroad.
More than ten years had elapsed since my parents [Pesach and Esther Lerner] had come on aliya, and in spite of my being only 2 years old my mother did not hesitate to take me with her in order to show me off to her family and friends.
I was very young and few memories of this family adventure remain with me, but my grandma Sara Sudman frequently told me about her unforgettable memories of that time. The atmosphere of that period was conveyed in her retelling of this story, and I will therefore try to convey that in my words:
My mother wanted to reach Shumsk unannounced, perhaps concerned about the over excitement that preparations for her visit might cause her parents -- or perhaps for other reasons.
After a few days aboard a ship, and a train ride. we reached Kremenets in the late evening hours. (The Kremenets station was the last stop before Shumsk.) Kremenets was the town where my mother's sister Chava lived. For the same reasons that my mother did not want advance notice of her arrival in Shumsk, my mother decided not to go to her sister's home but to spend the night in a hotel and to later contact her sister and let her know that she was in Poland only after she had arrived in Shumsk. But by chance there was another Jew from Shumsk staying at the hotel. He was very excited to see us and immediately wanted to spread word of our arrival. My mother prevailed upon him not to do so. She explained how she had wanted to spare her parents unnecessary excitement and therefore hoped to come quietly to their home with no unneeded commotion.
In the morning my mother could not contain herself and we ran to her sister's home. After a day of rest in her home, we left for Shumsk and arrived at the road leading to my grandparents' home in the evening. The wonderful sight that greeted us here greatly surprised my mother. All of the homes on both sides of this street were brightly lit, with lights in all the windows like the lights used during the holidays. At the entrance to my grandfather's house stood two rows of family and friends who had come to greet the guest from Eretz Yisrael and to welcome her warmly.
We discovered that the Shumsker we had met in Kremenets was unable to contain himself and had spoken to many people about our arrival. How could he act differently? He too was so excited to see someone who had come from Eretz Yisrael -- and we now understood that that the commotion our arrival aroused was not because we were coming to our own family. Rather it was a demonstration of the great love and yearning for Eretz Yisrael of all the townspeople.
When I saw all of the commotion around us and heard the loud noise I became frightened and burst into tears. I was immediately carried inside the house, taken to a room that had been especially prepared for us and put to bed, even though everyone had especially wanted to see me and to examine the of wonder of a little child speaking perfect Hebrew -- a child who does not understand a word of Yiddish. The following morning, teachers of the Hebrew language, Zionist leaders and pupils from the Tarbut school arrived to listen to me speaking fluent Hebrew. Every expression or word I said and which they had not known gave them great pleasure and they repeated it until they had mastered the words.
During the first few days I had some trouble. I couldn't play with the little children my age since we had no common language, but in the course of time I managed to learn Yiddish more quickly than they learned Hebrew from me -- and in this way I almost forgot how to speak Hebrew.
In any case I was received with great love and was thoroughly spoiled. During the time I was in Shumsk I was the center of attention -- a living piece of Eretz Yisrael that was brought whole to them for their pleasure, edification and enjoyment.
When I saw the first snow that I had ever seen, my grandma Sara told me, I shouted, White rain is falling from the sky!
I still remember that deep white snow, just as I also remember the first forest that my eyes laid sight on -- a magnificent forest of pines in Antovits.
My grandma told us many other stories, and in all of them she expressed her deep love for Eretz Yisrael -- and the love for Eretz Yisrael of the Jews of Shumsk. When I remember her stories I remember my parents' parents and I know that that was a generation of deep national commitment, of yearning and of faith, worthy of being remembered by all of us.
by Esther Sapir (Groman)
Translated by Shulamit Berman
|Translator's Notes: Esther Sapir was the youngest of eight children of Sender Sforim (his children Hebraicized the surname to Sapir), who was born in Radzivilov in 1859. As World War I refugees, Sender and his family settled in Shumsk. Having been teachers of Hebrew, Sender and his wife opened a school in Shumsk where Hebrew was taught, and they participated in Zionist activities. One of Esther's brothers, Yosef, was born in 1903, according to a 1927 list of Shumsk residents, so we know Esther was born after 1903. Her married name was Groman. Yosef Sapir, who immigrated to Palestine, wrote On 'Hechalutz' in Shumsk and its Members, beginning on page 276 of this yizkor book. Another brother, Rafael Sapir, was on the editorial board for this yizkor book and wrote several chapters.
The rebbetzin Faygele, daughter of Rabbi Yitzhak Wertheim of Bender, was the widow of Rabbi Yisrael Dov-Ber Lerner, known as Rabbi Beirinyo. An article about Rabbi Beirinyo begins on page 188 of this yizkor book.
As you know, my bustling little town was imbued with Zionism. Our father educated us in the spirit of Zionism. We all wanted to move to Eretz Israel, to be among those who realized the dream, the builders, and so we began leaving home. One by one my brother and sisters shouldered their belongings and set out to fulfill their aspirations. It was an interesting time filled with youthful enthusiasm and a strong desire to take action.
I, the youngest, was one of the last to leave, but I was restless and more than ready to go. The longed-for day finally arrived, and there was much lamentation in the family as they mourned the fact that the nest was emptying out.
It was a rainy day, wet and gloomy. The whole town was covered in water and mud that was knee deep.
My father accompanied me as I took leave of the relatives and neighbors. Suddenly we found ourselves facing the large, imposing home of Faygele the Rebbetzin (the rabbi's wife).
We entered, and she received us warmly. Her whole personality emanated love and motherhood, despite the harsh fate that had rendered her childless.
My father complained to her, saying he had raised eight children, like young olive saplings, but each one left him, and who knows if he would ever see them again. Now he remained lonely and bereft.
Faygele listened quietly. Then she suddenly shook herself, fixed him with her warm, direct gaze, and said:
Sender, Sender, you don't know how to appreciate the great happiness that has befallen you. You have raised children who laugh at the mundane pleasures of this world, who give up their personal enjoyment, children who are prepared to make sacrifices to realize their ideals. I envy you.She then approached me. She stood before me, stately in stature, and remained silent for a long time.
Then she placed her hand on my head and said: You are blessed and your journey is blessed. May you be like a tree planted by pure waters, that provides sustenance to many of our people.
Then her voice choked and she stopped speaking. She turned away from us, as if hiding something. We only saw her back trembling and shaking.
With the last of her strength she tried to stand erect, to hold her head high, as if she was engaged in a rigorous struggle with the bitterness of fate her fate.
Once again she suffered her pain:
God in heaven, even the satisfaction of having my children depart has been denied me! Not even a little of this pleasure, the pain of separating from children who are leaving I am to be deprived even of this!We left silently, witnesses to a personal tragedy unfolding before our eyes.
Faygele, a Jewish rebbetzin from the little town of Shumsk. Nobody else had even half of your pain and depth of understanding.
Many years have passed, but Faygele the Rebbetzin, bereft of both husband and children, still stands before me, a powerful figure whose empathy and love for others was never dimmed by the ravages of nature.
by Pesya Gercfeld
Translated by Selwyn Rose
|Editor's Note: Pesya-Golda (Lerner) Gercfeld was the daughter of Moshe and Malka Lerner. Her father Moshe had been a private teacher in Shumsk. Pesya married Avraham Chaim Gercfeld (originally from Berestechko) and they had two sons and a daughter in Shumsk. The daughter, Rachel, spelled her last name Hartzfeld. When Pesya's husband Avraham Chaim passed away in the 1930s, Pesya emigrated to Palestine with her children and resided in Tel Aviv, as did her brother Pesach Lerner. Pesach Lerner was on the editorial board for the original edition of this Shumsk yizkor book. In the 1930s Pesya returned to Shumsk to bring her parents to Palestine, thus saving their lives. Pesya's childhood friend Breindel Chazen, described in this chapter, emigrated to the United States in 1921. Some of Breindel's brothers also emigrated to the United States.|
Yaakov Chazen's house was for me like my own home and his family was like my family during my early teen years. I was the friend of their daughter, Breindel, and we sat next to each other in school preparing our home assignments together. More than once, we studied together late into the evening and several times I stayed overnight, sleeping together with her in the same bed. For a long time my lungs were filled with the atmosphere of that splendid home, and, like lessons learned in early childhood, the memories are not forgotten with the passage of years. My impressions of those same childhood years live on and appear before my eyes as if they occurred yesterday. When I meet with Breindel's brother David on his visits in Israel, those years pass before my eyes: summer, autumn, winter and spring, as if they were just yesterday. Each memory provokes a further memory and yet another, until it is impossible to separate them as they surface and drift across my heart.
The Chazen family home was situated in the market and the winter days of Tevet and Shevat (December and January) were freezing cold for the shopkeepers, and the Chazen home was used as a place where the stall-holders could sit and keep warm. Each one of them brought hot food, and Yaakov would use the coals from the stove and immediately replenish the fire with firewood with his own hands so that no one's food would get cold.
As summer drew to a close, all the different fruits in our area were ripening and the larder was full to overflowing with plums, cherries, apples and pears. Then Sarah, the housewife, would get busy making preserves from all the different fruits.
For days on end, she would be occupied, using skills she had learned long ago. Breindel and I had the task of seeking out all kinds of available containers -- wide-mouthed jars, bowls, mugs -- which she greatly needed.
We were mystified as to why she needed so many containers when she could have one large container such as was found in every house in Shumsk. It was then that Sarah took out a long list of needy and sick people for whom she would fill the containers, saying: We must do as the list tells us!
If there is truth in the legend of the humble, modest person who lives for the sake of others and on whom the world rests, then Sarah Chazen belongs to that group, and not by chance was she known as Sarah the Righteous.
by Bezalel Goren (Alter Gorendar)
Translated by Shulamit Berman
|Translation editor's notes: Bezalel Goren, son of Sara (Bren) and David Dudi Gorendar, was born Avraham Betsalel Gorendar in 1912 in Shumsk. He was named after his maternal grandfather and was called Alter as a child. Bezalel joined the Zionist youth movement Hechalutz and immigrated to Palestine in 1935. In 1947 he married Ducia Koren, who was also from Shumsk and had immigrated to Palestine separately, as had her siblings. In Israel, Ducia also went by the name Zehava. Bezalel served in the British Royal Air Force during World War II. Then he participated in Israel's War of Independence. He played a crucial role in the development of the Israel Air Force by training aviation technicians, moving airplane equipment through enemy lines, and overseeing the construction of Israel's first fighter plane, the Israel-1. He also was a prolific writer. He wrote an autobiography titled Pathways to the Sky (Carlton Press, 1984). Several articles that he wrote for Voice of Kremenets Emigrants in Israel and the Diaspora can be found in English translation in booklets 16, 17, and 18 at https://www.jewishgen.org/Yizkor/kremenets1/kremenets1.html|
Summer 1919 I was 5 or 6, sitting on the sofa and trying to peer through the curtain. Our house wasn't elegant, in fact it was more of a hovel, a one-room shack, its straw roof falling into disrepair, with holes that kept out neither rain nor sun. In fact it was a miracle it was still standing. The interior, too, bore testimony to the poverty of its tenants.
I was sitting on the sofa made by Yoel the carpenter. His motto was: If you supply the nails and boards, I can do anything.
The sofa, upholstered by peasants, was stuffed with straw. It was so old that the fabric was torn and straw was spilling out, adding to the dirt on the clay floor our floor was not made of wood. I was still looking out, both curious and scared, because I noticed unusual activity in our alley.
Our narrow room suddenly appeared to be an extremely sought-after place for the most honorable people in town. The family of Yehoshua Duchovny had left their spacious home to move in with us.
In another corner sat the family of Idel son of Brendel. When they ran out of space they moved to be with my Aunt Gittele only a thin wooden board separated her from us. But the attic was the most popular spot, because it was easy to look out through the holes in the roof. That's where the youngsters congregated, to see what was happening in the street.
Not only had we been graced with important visitors, but the honorable guests had sought us out especially. Idel told the children: If they come and ask whose house this is, you must say it's your grandfather's, your mother's father. He kept repeating it, to make sure we got it right. Mrs. Duchovny was trying to persuade Moshe Naches, Aunt Gittele's neighbor, that if strangers come, he should pretend she is his wife!
Moshe Neches, as you know, was a water carrier when he was younger, and now, in his old age, he was reduced to begging. But suddenly he had become the most desirable man in town, chosen by no less than Mrs. Duchovny. But why?
This was a lawless time in our area and in Russia as a whole. Gangs roamed the surrounding towns, demanding money and attacking the well-to-do. We all lived in fear of the Ukrainian pogroms.
Weska the watchmaker (who, incidentally, lived among the Jews, and was a neighbor of Spatche, the mother of Meir the lame, also known as Animi), Arion the shoemaker from Birg and his wife, the brother of Bronke who worked in the public bathhouse, all got together and organized a gang.
They threatened the wealthy Jews of our town with beatings and murder, to extort money. Whenever the Ukrainians were seen on their horses the Jews would run to hide. That's when the rich Jews thought the poor Jews could protect them.
All the deceptions and the concealments were of no avail, of course, because the marauders were local townsfolk who knew everyone. They killed Mr. Prelucki, they injured my father, and at great risk the Jews paid a ransom to save our rabbi.
When it became known that our rabbi's life was in danger, the people left their hiding places to bring the ransom demanded by the looters. Rabbi Beirinyo was greatly loved by everyone.
Through the window I could see the rabbi running, bloodied from the gang's blows, while Jews hastened toward him carrying money in their hands.
I saw all these things through the window. I imagined myself as an all-powerful magician, a hero, saving lost souls, innocent Jews who were upholding their Judaism in the killing expanse of the Russian Orthodox Church. I would protect them. I would avenge them.
I did not become a magician. When the time came to fight the Nazi oppressor, I was already in Eretz Israel. In my mind's eye I see you, miserable and defenseless. I see your terror and your helplessness, your suffering and your devotion to that which you held holy.
* * *
Only three of us remained out of our entire large family. There were eleven of us, eight boys and three girls.
Father and Mother, you raised us in sorrow. What didn't you do, Father, just to keep your family alive?
Father played the trumpet. But as long as I remember, life was joyless for Jews. Persecution and calamity followed each other in our town so who needed musicians? Father took his trumpet and buried it in the ground, praying for better times, when he could play again.
But a buried trumpet did not absolve Father from the need to provide a livelihood. So he tried his luck at something else. He became a porter, a night watchman, a peddler in the villages of Nishkowitz and Karolitz. He endangered his life on the roads, helped and protected by my eldest brother, Eliezer.
That's how he saved us from starvation and raised us to be healthy and strong. All his sons and daughters grew to adulthood.
Three of us remained. The lives of the others were ended by the Nazis unnatural deaths.
How great is our sorrow and pain. Father could not save an entire world from the destroyers, and they were all killed. But he did what he could in a town lacking opportunities. He raised a Jewish family; this must never be forgotten.
I remember winter. A typhus epidemic swept through the town. The angel of death did not spare a single house. He reaped his greatest harvest among the homes of the poor. There was no medicine. No money for a doctor. My brother Eliezer came down with typhus three times. My sister Chana was ill for a long time. They couldn't diagnose what she had. Her eyes were bright and she roared and screamed. Her speech and behavior were inhuman. Yet who could take the trouble to decide what ailed the poor child when there was no time even to bury the dead. My sister Chaya had typhus twice. My brother Yitzhak lay there, his face drawn and pale. Only his black eyes shone. My brother Aharon was also sick, his arms and legs as thin as twigs. Only Father and Mother were holding on, trying with all their strength to save the children. Miraculously, they all recovered and grew up healthy, strong, good and quiet, polite and sensitive.
* * *
The disturbances died down. The town enjoyed a time of relative calm. Father took out his buried trumpet and the orchestra was revived.
Years passed, his children grew, and Father's face reflected his happiness. He had the privilege to conduct an orchestra composed almost completely of his children.
Happiness and joy were once again heard in our town. Our family, too, celebrated weddings. My eldest brother married Tsipah, the daughter of Chaya and Mordechai Zuber. The family's connections grew. Chaya, the mother of the bride, was Father's sister, and Mordechai, the bride's father, was Mother's cousin.
One family among many. When they say that the Jewish people strive for luxury and comfort, families like this stand in opposition as testimony and proof. The Jewish people are graced with light, preserving humanity at all costs, under all conditions and in every situation. It is an honor to belong to such a people and such a family.
by Muni Chazen
|Note: This article appeared in Yiddish in the journal of the Shumsker Relief Society for a benefit dinner for World War II refugees in March 1946 at Garfein's restaurant in Brooklyn, New York. For the Shumsk Yizkor Book, it was translated to Hebrew by Rafael Sapir. This English translation by Howard Freedman, from the Yiddish, appears on the JewishGen KehilaLinks website for Shumsk, The Shumsk Pages.|
Facts, stories, and legends that are tied deeply with David of Shumsk, founder and builder of Shumsk, whose descendants already number the tenth generation, and who now find themselves in America.
If you should look for Shumsk on the map, you will surely not find it. I confess that whenever someone asks me where I come from, I say from near Kremenets. Not that I am ashamed of our little town, but only because nobody has ever heard of it. For the Tsarist government Shumsk was of little historical or strategic importance. It found itself at the middle point between Kremenets and Ostrog.
However, Jews there did not complain about the towns which made their shtetl unknown, as long as they could live there peacefully and draw their livelihood from all of the goods which mother earth brought them there. The quiet waters which flowed there were a source of subsistence, but for the Jews of Shumsk the shtetl Shumsk had historical significance. Many of us may know that Shumsk has behind it a history that is already 200 years old, which is connected with David of Shumsk.
Everybody knows who David Shumsker was, but not everybody knows the great merits and appreciation which were due to him. Many of us will be interested to know that even before Shumsk became a settlement, Rachmanov already had a Jewish community. But over the years the situation changed. Shumsk became the well of livelihood, the Jews moved over from Rachmanov to Shumsk, and afterwards the small cluster of Jews in Rachmanov diminished.
But let us tell the story:
Approximately 200 years ago, in the times of Polish rule, a landowner would lease his properties to Jews. Such was the case in Rachmanov. Jews paid a lease for the inn, the mill, and the river. Rachmanov also possessed around it fields and woods, which were a source of subsistence for Jews. Moreover, not far from Rachmanov was found much clay and brown dirt, from which were wrought various bricks, roof tiles, and pots for cooking.
This created an opportunity for many Jews to make a living, and it did not take long for the community of Rachmanov to increase from a village into a town. The Jewish community built a synagogue in Rachmanov, brought in two Torah scrolls, and conducted a Jewish life.
Two factors played a role in the development of the brick industry: the brown earth that was found there, and the abilities of the manager, under whom the business blossomed.
This has all been to credit our ancestor David for nurturing the brick industry, but it is because he later bought large tracts of land in Shumsk, having found brown earth there in abundance, that he subsequently came to be known to all as David Shumsker.
The bricks that were produced in his brick factory had a reputation throughout the entire region on account of their strength. One could recognize him from his initials on them: D.Sh.
In the beginning the bricks actually came from around Tcherenka. People called Tcherenka the place where the brown earth lay. As the brown earth was depleted in Tcherenka, David purchased parcels of land in Shumsk from Lord Shumsky and erected a brick factory there, which was a success from then onward. This was in about the year 1745. It became known that the brown earth in Shumsk was even better than the brown earth in Tcherenka. David proceeded to build a brick house, and the work then moved over to Shumsk.
About the many who lived in Rachmanov, who had to come to the work and go home in the evening to sleep, people joked: They go to Rachmanov to sleep in the coop. This saying goes on in Shumsk until the present day: Go to Rachmanov to sleep in the coop.
From that time one can imagine how Shumsk developed. The Jewish community developed and Shumsk became a town. David received the name David Shumsker.
Silent witnesses to that time that have remained are the pits by the Polish church below the cemetery.
There was a legend about the pits by the church which merits inclusion in Jewish folklore, and which is told thus:
In the site of the pits in former times, there stood a church. It came to pass in Shumsk that a great tzaddik who was also the rabbi of the town passed away. They prepared the funeral, they brought the corpse to the synagogue, the funeral speaker was there, and the funeral started out towards the cemetery. Just then, the church bells rang. The pallbearers stopped, not knowing what to do. Suddenly, the deceased one sat up and uttered a few words. The church sank and disappeared, and these are the two deep pits that have remained in memory.
David Shumsker's business grew and he employed Jews and Christians alike. The gentiles had great respect for him, because he treated them like a father and they even called him Batt, which means father. When the government assigned family names, David took the name Batt. All who carry the name Batt are his descendants. We Shumskers referred to him by the old name David Shumsker, because on every brick were the initials D.Sh. And whenever a brick fell from a building, we recalled him.
In addition to the houses that David erected in Shumsk for himself and his children, he never forgot the needs of the city. He erected a house of prayer and, l'havdil, a bathhouse, a house for welcoming strangers, and a hospital for the poor. Three lines of stores in the market, which went as an inheritance to his descendents, benefitted a fund for the greeting of brides. A bit later he administered the construction of the great synagogue. The synagogue was of pure brick, high and beautiful, with a fence around it. Not everyone knows that from the synagogue to his house, which stood opposite the Russian church, he built an underground cellar, also from brick. The purpose that the underground cellar served is not known. The cellar was spread out under the entire market. With the passage of years, it has become sunken in and damaged in several places. When they built the pharmacy, they also struck this cellar, but because of the bad odor they could not enter it. Neither could they go near the synagogue's cellar for the same reason. Legend tells us that in the depths of the cellar lie casks of gold, held under the power of little dwarves with chicken's feet. The dwarves bring blessed luck to those people who have the keys to the cellar. Therefore, people say in Shumsk that Yudel Zak became rich because he had the keys to the synagogue cellar, where he stored wooden wheels, and every time he rolls out the wheels, he brings blessed luck...
According to the details engraved in golden letters on the western wall of the synagogue, the synagogue was finished in the year 1780. Here was recounted what had happened in each time: when David Shumsker should have already finished the building of the synagogue, the authorities interfered, not wanting to allow the building to remain so tall. The work ceased. However, he remained a allow the building to be completed on the condition that he first build a brick wall around the Russian church. The story goes on that, after the synagogue was completed, lightning struck this wall and knocked down a large section.
The synagogue was indeed quite high. However, when one came in, one first had to ascend several staircases, which made the synagogue still higher, so as to fulfill the verse Out of the depths I call You, O Lord. In 1896 when Yossele Rosenblatt prayed in our synagogue as a boy, the throng on Shabbat was such that after praying, they had to pull him out by the hand.
In the center of the synagogue was an elevated area with a gate around it. Men came from both sides up to the bima, where they read from the Torah. They did hakafot at Simchat Torah and Hoshanot on Hoshana Raba around this platform. Lamps were suspended by long chains hanging down from the ceiling, and what held up the ceiling was a mystery. During the summer it was a joy to pray in the synagogue, but in wintertime we prayed there in furs and caught shivers. The legend is told that once a boy was lost on a Friday night. People looked around for him and could not find him. The father remembered that he had been in the synagogue with him, but he did not think about him after praying. He went to the sexton so that he might open the synagogue, but the sexton was afraid because it was already midnight. So they went to the rabbi. The rabbi told the sexton to get a gentile to light a lamp and that, before the sexton could open the door, he should knock three times. With terror they opened the door and indeed found the boy sleeping in the corner. He explained that he did not arrive on account of the ghosts that came out at night...and the ghosts furthermore did not need him.
In the present year 1946 it will be 165 years since David completed the synagogue. What has now become of the synagogue? God knows!
by Charna (Katz) Rabin
Translated by Shulamit Berman
|Translation editor's notes: Charna (Katz) Rabin was born in Lanovets in 1916. Her father, Eliezer Katz, was a native of Shumsk. As a child Charna lived with her grandmother in Shumsk. She married Chaim Rabin, editor of the Szumsk Yizkor Book, who was a grandson of Kovke Berensztejn. The subject of this piece, Yehuda Ashkenazi, was known by his Yiddish name, Idel. Many of his relatives perished in the Holocaust, including his wife, Chava; their daughters Tzvi, Hentze, and Edel; their son Moshe and his wife; and their son Gershon and his wife, Ita-Malka, and their two children. Idel himself died before the outbreak of World War II.|
Two houses faced each other at the entrance to Shumsk. One was the home of Kovke Berensztejn, one of the wealthiest men in town, and the other one, on the opposite side of the road, belonged to Reb Idel Ashkenazi. It was sunk into the ground to the level of the windowsills and its roof dipped in the middle, so it looked like a huge camel sprawled in the street.
These two contrasting houses both attracted attention, signifying, as they did, the harmony between different strata of Jews the rich man on one side, and the pauper on the other, living as neighbors, with no partition between them. They were united in the fact that they were both Jews, neither envying nor disparaging one another.
Idel Ashlenazi was sensitive to the point of tears, especially when it came to his sons and daughters. He was a man of strong faith, firm as a rock, never questioning or pondering the ways of the Almighty.
He made his living from Sabbath necessities fish and onions, and he seemed content to do so, almost as if his focus was always on the Sabbath, even on weekdays.
Two men pose beneath a sign that says The Book of Registration. This was for the Golden Book project, which started in 1903 and recognized donors to the Jewish National Fund. The photo has no caption in the original Shumsk Yizkor Book.
Actually he was willing to sell anything, but there was not much available. A little grain here and there, a small quantity of lentils, some soft brushes and stiff brushes, leathers and furs. He didn't deal in them much because he had barely any money, so the traders didn't come to him there were other dealers in Shumsk.
Usually he was only to be seen on Thursdays and Fridays, in his work clothes, scurrying about with trays of fish and onions, trying to persuade shoppers to buy his wares.
Shumsk is situated between two rivers teeming with fish. Fishermen and farmers with spare time would sit along the riverbanks to add to their limited merchandise. It was hard for Idel Ashkenazi to compete with these gentiles, who themselves brought fish to sell in Shumsk.
Luckily some of them felt obligated to help honest Idke. Their Ivago was so straightforward and truthful he was almost saintly, so they brought him fish and he paid whatever he could.
Thursdays and Fridays were difficult, worrisome days for Idel, as he toiled to provide for his family. All the unsold fish and onions found their way to the Sabbath table.
Idel knew that some women dared not buy fish from him because his wife had rightly reminded them that they hadn't paid him for the past five weeks. What did he do? He pretended he had somewhere to be, and brought fish for these women so they should not be ashamed before the Almighty, nor be ashamed that their table lacked fish.
His children knew that everything he did was for the sake of the Sabbath and in order to support his family. They never criticized him, nor did they ever complain. Because he was humble and honest they, too, were humble and honest, and they were obedient students in school and in cheder.
It says a great deal about Idel that, despite being extremely devout, he did not object when his children began to speak Hebrew and talk of moving to Eretz Israel. The oldest two children got married and one couple moved to a nearby town. They both inherited their father's nature fortitude in the face of hardship and the ability to contend with poverty and scarcity. They never dared to approach the Aliyah (emigration) movements and agencies, lest it cause their father pain. But the younger ones were different. They realized that their father Idel was willing to give them his blessing no matter what, so they became pioneers.
Idel Ashkenazi, a man whose modesty protected him from envy, a man who never sought honor or respect, merited the pride and admiration of his children. He was so unassuming toward his wife, Chava, and his children that they never vexed him or showed disrespect to their parents.
But his greatest merit lay in the fact that the youth of Shumsk, imbued as they were with the spirit of Zionism and negation of the Diaspora, regarded him as the archetypical good Jew, one who accepted everything with love, who was prepared to suffer, but would never go against the will of the Almighty. The young people viewed him as a symbol of willingness to change but at the same time a symbol of the Jew who accepts his religion unquestioningly. They absorbed these two qualities, one being the courage to change the situation of the Jews, and the other to express what it means to be a Jew, even if it incurs suffering, poverty, and deprivation.
They expressed their thanks through their affection for his children, their school friends, and the movement.
It is a great pity that his children did not ultimately make aliyah (immigrate to the land of Israel), except for one. She is enriched by the heritage of her father. She joined a kibbutz in Eretz Israel, seeing it as a natural continuation of the teachings of Idel Ashkenazi.
May this precious Jew be remembered for good.
by Esther (Sudman) Lerner
Translated by Shulamit Berman
|Translation editor's notes: Esther (Sudman) Lerner was married to Pesach Lerner, who was on the editorial board of this yizkor book and wrote several chapters. More about their families is in the translator's notes on page 199. Members of the Nejman family who perished in the Holocaust included Zecharya Nejman, also known as Meir; his son Yosef Nejman, and Yosef's wife; Zecharya's daughter Peril and Peril's husband Shlomo Fishman, who was from Lanovits; and Beila-Rivka and Freida-Ita Fishman, who were daughters of Peril and Shlomo.|
It was our work for the public that brought us together. I knew him well. I often visited the home where he lived with his sister Pnina. It was warm and welcoming, filled with peace and serenity. Joseph radiated calm. He welcomed everyone cheerfully.
He was forever preoccupied with Zionist matters collecting funds, organizing the youth, distributing the blue box and busying himself with the library.
At every wedding and family occasion Yosef was the first to raise the subject of the Jews' obligation to the Keren Kayemet the Jewish National Fund.
He was a deeply serious man, almost inflexible when it came to anything related to Zionism. Yet at the same time he was always accommodating in his dealings with others. In our joint endeavors he was always overburdened, taking on the most difficult tasks. He invested all his soul and all his talents in working toward the emerging Jewish state.
Translation editor's note: The woman is not named in the photo caption.
But he himself never had the opportunity to make aliyah (immigration to the land of Israel).
His mother Beila
She was extremely industrious and energetic. When her husband Meir (Nejman) was incapacitated, his eyes glazed and his body afflicted with palsy, and he could no longer work, she tried to support the family by herself.
She hoed the yard behind the house, tilled and watered the soil, and sowed vegetable seeds. She was the only Jewish woman in Shumsk who sold vegetables she herself had grown. Perhaps the only one in the vicinity.
When she realized that selling vegetables would not provide enough income, she bought a cow and sold its milk to her neighbors. This too was very unusual in our town.
Visiting her home was like a taste of Israel of the future, where merchant-seller Jews would work hard and their lives would improve. The serenity of this woman whom fate had dealt such a hard blow, her clarity of thought and the way she managed her household, gave me faith in our future in Eretz Israel, where every Jew would live peacefully, working the fields near their homes, making bread from their own wheat, with no cares to mar their tranquility.
This downtrodden woman accepted her fate uncomplainingly, never comparing her situation to that of other women.
This is the spirit she bequeathed to her son Joseph.
Reb David Nejman was kind to everyone he met. He was also so meticulous in his affairs that he had no time for anything else.
When his son Meir fell ill with an incurable disease, he couldn't bear to see the suffering of his daughter-in-law who was struggling unsuccessfully to make a living. David was already an old man. It was time for him to rest, but he ignored his age and redoubled his efforts to augment his income and thus help the family of his only son.
He spent weekdays in the forest which he leased, making sure that no wood was stolen and no trees were damaged. He would return home on Fridays to observe the Sabbath with his family and grandchildren, so that they could spend the day like every other Shumsk family, free of the daily cares of the week.
I happened to be in their home one Friday when David returned from the forest. My visit made a great impression on me. It is one of the rare pleasant memories I carry with me from Shumsk and the home of Yosef Nejman.
The door opened slowly and David entered. He was tall and white-bearded. He immediately seated himself in a chair in the middle of the room, and the fragrance of the forest wafted about him. He didn't say a word, but the whole room seemed to brighten. His grandchildren burst in and he smiled from ear to ear. His eyes twinkled as he distributed his gifts fruit and nuts from his trees.
The grandchildren were clean, washed and tidy. They stood at his side, ready to serve him, while his daughter-in-law Beila bent down very low to remove his heavy boots.
Who removed his boots during the week in the forest? Here too, David could have done it himself, but Beila did it to express her gratitude, an act of admiration and reciprocal respect.
He immediately washed his hands and she served him the finest hot food for the whole week, while the children stood at a distance, taking pleasure in his shining face, grateful to have such a cherished grandfather.
Meir sat some distance apart, taking in the fragrant atmosphere that surrounded his family. He gazed at them with his large brown eyes, tears rolling down his cheeks.
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