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[Pages 401-404]

Two Friends – One Father

by Munya Chazen

Translated by Shulamit Berman

Notes: The author of this piece, Chaim Munya, and his wife and children left Shumsk for America in 1921. Years later, Chazen wrote this and other pieces about Shumk's history and folklore. More about Chazen's life and family is in the introductory note on page 376 of this book's translation.

The Yiddish portions of the Shumsk Yizkor Book were translated to Hebrew by Esther Weinschelbaum and those translations are online at https://www.jewishgen.org/Yizkor/szumsk/szumskh.html. This translation to English was done from the Yiddish-to-Hebrew translation.


There were several melamdim (teachers) in our town, but the most renowned was Simcha Melamed.[1]

Although he was over 70 years old, he was still teaching. Many of those whose children studied with him had themselves once been his pupils, and they still called him rebbe. In fact everyone in town called him rebbe. In truth it could be said, without exaggeration, that nearly half the men in town had once been his students.

Indeed, Simcha Melamed's cheder (religious elementary school) was always full.

But it would seem that even a full cheder could not provide a decent livelihood, and he had to seek extra sources of income, such as reciting kaddish (the prayer for the dead), el malei rahamim (the prayer recited at the graveside), and making up a minyan (quorum) in a house of mourning. Seeing that he was one of the oldest men in town everyone consulted him regarding yahrtzeits (anniversaries of deaths) because he kept a record of the dates. He also headed a group that studied mishnayot (chapters of the Oral Law) during shiva (the seven-day mourning period) and on yahrtzeits, until things improved and the kloyz (small synagogue) also had a gabbai (sexton) for all commemorative dates. There was no shortage of schnapps, and there was even a bit more money available.

Simcha Melamed managed these additional tasks together with his friend Zushia Melamed[2], who was around the same age. Zushia taught children in the Talmud Torah (elementary school) of Rabbi Beirinyo's[3] kloyz, for which he was paid a miserable pittance.

The two friends, Simcha and Zushia, were always seen together, both at joyous occasions and in times of mourning, so they were known as the “two brothers,” “beloved and pleasant,” or “the twosome.”

No celebration was complete without them. They were among the first at every wedding, brit (circumcision), pidyon haben (ceremony for redeeming the firstborn son), hanukkat bayit (housewarming), and so on. At every occasion that warranted a drink the “two brothers” sat together, toasting each other with schnapps and cries of l'chaim (to life). In fact it was true that no celebration in Shumsk would be complete if the pair of them were not invited to represent the town's elders, especially since they weren't the kind to wait for an invitation. They had a tradition of celebrating with a glass of schnapps, regardless of who the actual celebrant might be. It frequently happened that their host was a student of theirs, or the parent of a student, in which case it was a mitzvah (good deed) to drink a l'chaim with the rebbe. They would be honored with glasses of fine schnapps.

The two of them would make merry until they were tipsy and the toasts became quite jolly. Only then would they leave for home, arm in arm. Once they had drunk more than four cups they often began to bemoan their fate. The one who was still capable of speech after drinking so much was Simcha Melamed, a strong Jew with a dignified expression. This is how he would begin:

“Tell me, my beloved Zushia, what are we? Ah, what do you say, melamdim? No! We are hewers of wood. You know what, if only we earned their salaries, and they paid on time. But we are hewers of wood all week long and my wife does not have what she needs for Shabbat because our employers forgot that that the rebbe also has a stomach and needs to eat. She complains: ‘If only you were a woodcutter, then I would at least have the wherewithal to prepare Shabbat and something to heat the house with.’ What can I say? Is there anything I can say in reply? Isn't she correct? Our employers, as you know, if one of them is good for the fees it's embarrassing to ask him, and if he's a beggar there's no point asking. What do we have for all our work? A crust of bread and a little water. You're going home to sing zemirot (Shabbat songs), ‘meat and fish and many delicacies,’ but on your table there will only be salt.”

Zushia Melamed listened to his friend Simcha's monologue, nodding his head in agreement as if to say:

“You are right. We should have such a good year.” But he didn't say a word. His tongue was in exile, it had disappeared.

He was the opposite of his friend. As much as Simcha liked to drink, he also like to chat and prattle. But Zushia remained as quiet as a kitten, only signifying agreement with his head.

In this way the two of them bemoaned their fate, drowning their troubles in alcohol. But their families went hungry.

I still remember Benjamin, Simcha's only son. His face was so pale it was almost bloodless, and he died in the prime of his life. Simcha was downcast because he was left without a son to say kaddish, yet he was not unduly affected. His wife, on the other hand, was devastated, and did not have the strength to withstand her suffering. She became melancholy and faded from day to day. She was ill for a time and one morning, when the students came to the cheder a neighbor told them they were free to go home, Rebbetzin Leah had died in the night.

To make sure they wouldn't stay idle they were sent to study with Zushia. Imagine what would have happened if the youngsters had spent a week “like sheep without a shepherd.”

Even before the rebbe had returned from the funeral the mischievous group had gotten hold of a large tub used for kneading challah dough and began sledding down a slope until the tub broke under their weight and the kids scattered. It did not bother them in the least. What did bother them was what to do when it became known to the rebbe? They decided to burn the tub. No sooner said than done. They lit some twigs from the stove, recited the blessing “Blessed be the Creator of fire”, and it was done.

Having gotten rid of the tub, they swore to keep the matter secret and went home. After the shiva the kids came back and studied diligently, because they felt guilty and wanted to be good, well-behaved students.

Rebbe Simcha treated them well because he felt lonely and took comfort in the fact that “students are called sons.” Nevertheless he was unable to stay in his house for long, so immediately after dismissing the cheder students he went to the kloyz, where he was consoled by Zushia, his good friend. (Zushia himself had been widowed in recent years.)

Some months elapsed before he was able to adapt to life within his four walls, but every morning at daybreak he went to the kloyz, where he felt more at home. It was especially pleasant to talk with Shemaya the shadchan (matchmaker), who proposed an orphan girl from a nearby town, a 30-year-old virgin.

At first he was unwilling to hear of a match, but after weighing the matter he considered that perhaps it was ordained in Heaven that he should leave behind someone to say kaddish for him after he reached 120 years of age. So he became reconciled to the idea and asked the shadchan to intercede for him. With the help of the Almighty he could still bring children into the world. Shemaya the shadchan took a pinch of snuff, stroked his beard, and gave him to believe that the matter would be settled favorably.

That same day he went to the orphan with extravagant promises. Nevertheless she had enough sense to protect herself by demanding that the house be registered in her name. Simcha unhesitatingly agreed. The whole matter was conducted in secret, so the town was in an uproar when one fine day rebbe Simcha turned up with someone.

The kloyz arranged a big reception for Simcha and welcomed him with great honor. Everyone wished him mazel tov. Some wags even wished him “a brit one year from now,” to which he replied: “If the Almighty wills it.”

Of course they were only speaking in jest, because you must know that our Simcha was already nearly 80. Yet he had lots of confidence, so he responded to all, “With God's help.” And wonder of wonders, the miracle occurred. One year later the orphan bore him a son. The excitement in town was indescribable.

The brit ceremony was conducted impressively in the synagogue. His former pupils made sure that everything was done properly – schnapps and honey cake, of course. His friend Zushia was happier than anyone. He also felt younger. It was with special joy that he heard what the Jews were saying about the miracle God had wrought.

The celebrant himself shone with happiness and even blushed a little. After drinking several l'chaims he became very merry and even kissed his friend Zushia. Dr. Jakobson[4] volunteered his medical assistance because he couldn't believe his eyes. It was a godsend, he said. But his help was not necessary. Everything went off well.

If such a thing had occurred in a large city the news reporters would have described the sensation in every detail. Our 80-year-old melamed would have become the hero of the day and his picture would grace the front page. But since it happened in a small town, there was a bit of excitement but then it died down.

Some time later Simcha Melamed caught a cold and developed pneumonia. He suffered for a week and then he died. This wasn't a sensation; it did not cause a stir in the town. But everyone was surprised to learn that before he died he had told his friend Zushia to marry his widow in order to provide for her and for the child. He also asked him to say kaddish for an entire year. It goes without saying that Zushia fulfilled the request of his dear friend.

Translator's Footnotes

  1. In this instance, melamed is Simcha's occupation, teacher of children, rather than a surname. Return
  2. In this instance, melamed is Zushia's occupation, teacher of children, rather than a surname. Return
  3. Rabbi Yisroel Dov Ber Lerner, affectionately called Rabbi Beirinyo, was born in 1867, became the head rabbi of Shumsk after his father's death in 1907, and died in the typhus epidemic in 1919. He is recalled in a chapter of this yizkor book beginning on page 188. Return
  4. Dr. Herman Jakobson (1882-1934) completed his medical studies in Riga in 1911 and worked as a physician in Shumsk the rest of his life, according to his granddaughter Irma Benyaminov. A chapter about Dr. Jacobson is in this yizkor book, beginning on page 199. Return

[Pages 405-409]

A Double Miracle

by Munya Chazen

Translated by Shulamit Berman

Notes: The author of this piece, Chaim Munya, and his wife and children left Shumsk for America in 1921. Years later, Chazen wrote this and other pieces about Shumk's history and folklore. More about Chazen's life and family is in the introductory note on page 376 of this book's translation.

The Yiddish portions of the Shumsk Yizkor Book were translated to Hebrew by Esther Weinschelbaum and those translations are online at https://www.jewishgen.org/Yizkor/szumsk/szumskh.html. This translation to English was done from the Yiddish-to-Hebrew translation.


After the 1917 revolution Kerensky's Provisional Government collapsed, the regime was overthrown,[1] and the country went through terrible times. Anarchy spread throughout Russia. It seemed as if the “Great Bear” was being torn to pieces. One disaster followed another.

First of all, Germany enforced the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk[2] and ripped away sections of Russian territory. The Bolsheviks were still weak so they conceded everything.

Meanwhile civil war broke out in Russia, not one but several at the same time, led by Czarist generals.

Poland took advantage of the opportunity and attacked Russia with no warning, penetrating deep into its territory before Russian troops managed to regroup on their front lines.

In Ukraine, Petlura[3] sought to liberate his country from the Bolsheviks. He gathered together a multitude of soldiers who had fled the battlefield -- joined by gangs of murderers that he armed -- and was persuaded by Germany to fight the Bolsheviks.

When it became clear that his forces could not prevail over the Red Army they unleashed their fury on the Jews, killing and looting in every town and city and leaving a swath of destruction in their wake. Jewish blood flowed like water. Many towns organized themselves in defense and opposed the marauding gangs.

Their defeated remnants scattered to the villages and incited the farmers to launch pogroms against the Jews.

Our town, Shumsk, had miraculously escaped the pogroms,[4] but now we felt the danger drawing nearer and panic broke out.

One day, just before Christmas, rumors began to spread that neighboring farmers were planning a pogrom on the day of the fair. This was at a time when the gentiles around us were being encouraged to avenge themselves on the Jews for Petlura's failure to establish an independent Ukraine and save it from the Bolsheviks. There was no lack of provocateurs in the nearby villages, constantly inciting the farmers to carry out pogroms.

Actually they did not have any noticeable success, because the Jews in our town were on friendly terms with the neighboring gentiles, and now they were especially careful to avoid any misunderstanding. Jews would travel to the villages to buy produce from the farmers, while the gentiles came to town to purchase what they needed. Thus the Jews had always had amicable relations with the gentiles, especially those living at the edge of town.

But the provocateurs spread throughout the villages, urging everyone to carry out pogroms. Terror struck the hearts of the Jewish population when the fearful tidings reached their ears.

Each gentile was viewed with suspicion, every farmer was suspect in case … who knew? People trembled at every sound. Rumors were rife as the date of the market fair drew closer, on the 15th of the month. The panic grew from day to day.

We can only imagine what the people were going through. They gathered in groups in the marketplace and the batei midrash (the study halls attached to the synagogues) because of the impending danger. There were those who reported what they heard and what they knew about the preparations underway in the villages. They sought advice on how to prevent the catastrophe. The Bolshevik government was not yet entrenched in the small towns. The town's entire protection consisted of a commissar and a few policemen.

At that time our town had a liberal Christian commissar by the name of Andrei Kostyuk who had previously been a schoolteacher. The Jews knew he was a righteous gentile because he had done a great deal for the town during his time as commissar. They also knew he was on very good terms with one of the town leaders and that he did not take bribes.

So only one hope remained -- to appeal to him to do everything in his power to protect us from pogroms on the day of the fair. A delegation went to see him. He received them kindly and promised to do everything possible to help. He also made a suggestion: they should go to Kremenets and ask the governor to provide the town with 30 rifles and ammunition, and arm 30 returning Jewish soldiers. He was willing to help organize them for self defense, to protect the Jewish population.

There were already some soldiers in town who knew how to handle weapons and were prepared to protect their wives and children.

Kostyuk penned a document and handed it over to the delegation of three who went to Kremenets to obtain rifles.

They did not encounter any difficulty. They were given 30 rifles and ammunition, which they loaded onto a wagon. An armed policeman rode with them -- and in case they were stopped on the way and asked what they were transporting, they also sent a guard. They departed from Kremenets before sunset and traveled through the night, arriving in Shumsk before daybreak. The weapons were concealed in the cellar of the synagogue, where Idel Zak[5] stored firewood. The rifles were distributed among the Jewish soldiers, each taking one home and keeping it with him in anticipation of the day of the fair.

Unwilling to rely only on these preparations, Commisar Kostyuk also prepared for the day of the fair by calling out the militia.

He gathered several policemen. His assistant also had some policemen at his disposal. They were given instructions on how to respond if anything untoward occurred. On the day itself he sent them to both ends of the town, at the points where farmers entered with their wagons. Each wagon was stopped and searched for firearms and other deadly weapons. He himself, along with his policemen, patrolled the marketplace to ensure that no incidents broke out that could flare into a brawl. They rode their horses through the market and the place where horses were traded behind the church.

It was a fine day. The farmers gathered from round about. The Jews fearfully opened their shops, praying that the Almighty would protect them and everything would remain peaceful.

Everything went well. Even if there were some gentiles whose intentions were evil, they realized as soon as their wagons were examined that this was not a good time to start something.

The 30 young men with the rifles were forbidden to leave home unless, God forbid, something happened and a riot broke out. So the fair was conducted like any other, with buying and selling. It was already after midnight and everyone felt relieved -- as long as the commissar and the police patrolled the marketplace. Thanks to merciful God for such a true and faithful friend, a Christian who protected the Jewish population with all his heart.

Nevertheless it was impossible for the day to pass quietly. A shot was fired by mistake, causing panic among the farmers. Assuming the Jews were attacking them, they grabbed their bundles and purchases and fled in haste. In the melee nobody knew what had happened. People asked “Why are they running?” “Because they're shooting.” Where, what, when, who? Nobody knows. Meanwhile the wagon owners were fleeing at top speed. Many thought a fire had broken out; other shouted, “The Germans are coming!” But nobody knew what had really happened. Farmers were constantly leaving town. Panic, tumult. Shops were shuttered, and within 15 or 20 minutes no trace of the fair remained.

When it was all over, the commissar remained with his police “like sheep with no shepherd,” or rather, a shepherd with no sheep, because he didn't know what had happened. The Jews calmed down somewhat and gathered in the marketplace to find out -- it would appear that the story went like this: One of the young soldiers who was supposed to remain at home couldn't restrain himself. At 3 in the afternoon he took his rifle and went to the market in the military uniform he had brought from the front lines.

He loaded the rifle, carried it on his back, and passed among the wagons. It's impossible to know precisely what occurred, but his rifle suddenly went off, causing pandemonium among the farmers, who didn't know where the shot had come from. When the Jewish soldiers who had remained at home heard the shot and the ensuing uproar, they converged on the marketplace, armed with rifles. The farmers, seeing Jewish soldiers bearing arms, promptly assumed that they were being attacked. Every farmer grabbed his things and fled.

After conducting an investigation the commissar berated the Jewish soldier who, with one gunshot, had succeeded in putting all the farmers to flight. In the end the furious commissar sent him to jail for disturbing the public peace.

You probably think this is where it ended? Let me tell you what happened next:

When the gentiles living at the edge of town heard what had happened, that Jews were bearing arms, they were most displeased. What? Armed Jews? This cannot be allowed! The Jews must be relieved of their weapons!

After the commissar went home the Christians gathered in the marketplace and demanded that the Jews hand over their guns. They searched the house of every Jew, seized the rifles, and brought the Jewish soldiers to the marketplace. They were told to stand there until it was decided what should be done.

The commissar was asked to come and adjudicate. What should be done with the rifles and the soldiers?

In the meantime the soldiers were lined up in pairs and guarded like prisoners. The rifles were placed nearby. Not daring to venture into the street, the Jews peered through the windows to see what would happen. We can imagine how they felt for several hours until, praise the Lord, the commissar himself arrived. When they saw the commissar they were somewhat relieved because he was always good to the Jews.

He clarified the situation to the Christians, explaining how events had led to the arming of the Jewish soldiers for self-protection and not, God forbid, for any evil intent. He had given his approval so that the Jews could defend themselves if any gang should incite a pogrom. The shot had been fired by mistake and the soldier would be punished.

And so it was that, thanks to the commissar, the Jews were saved twice in one day. It could be said that it was a double miracle. After brief negotiations it was decided that the rifles would be handed over to the authorities, the Jewish soldiers were not to blame so they would be released to their homes, the Jews would bring schnapps and refreshments, and there would be no more animosity between the Jews and the Christians who had always lived in peace.

Translator's Footnotes

  1. Alexander Fyodorovich Kerensky (1881-1970), a Russian lawyer, was a key figure in the Russian Revolution of 1917. After the revolution in February, Kerensky joined the newly formed Russian Provisional Government, first as minister of justice, then as minister of war, and after July as the government's second minister-chairman. The Provisional Government was overthrown by Bolsheviks led by Lenin in the October Revolution. Return
  2. Under the terms of the Treaty of Brest-Livotsk, signed on March 3, 1918, Russia recognized the independence of Ukraine, Georgia and Finland; gave up Poland and the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia to Germany and Austria-Hungary; and ceded Kars, Ardahan and Batum to Turkey. In all, Russia lost more than 1 million square miles of territory and about a third of its population or around 55 million people; as well as a majority of its coal, oil and iron stores; and much of its industry. Return
  3. 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). Petlura was assassinated in Paris in 1926. The name is also commonly spelled Petliura or Petlyura. Return
  4. Apparently, military battles of World War I were not fought in Shumsk itself, but ultimately the town did not escape pogroms in this period. Such attacks on Jews in Shumsk are described elsewhere in this yizkor book and in other recollections, such as Lillian (Waldman) Morginstin's childhood essay, “Trips,” at https://kehilalinks.jewishgen.org/shumskoye/waldman.html Return
  5. Idel or Yidel Zak, born in 1875 and married to Golda, was a wealthy merchant dealing in iron for construction. Return

[Pages 410-414]

The Rabbi's Curse

by Munya Chazen

Translated by Shulamit Berman

Notes: The author of this piece, Chaim Munya Chazen, and his wife and children left Shumsk for America in 1921. Years later, Chazen wrote this and other pieces about Shumk's history and folklore. More about Chazen's life and family is in the introductory note on page 376 of this book's translation.

The Yiddish portions of the Shumsk Yizkor Book were translated to Hebrew by Esther Weinschelbaum and those translations are online at https://www.jewishgen.org/Yizkor/szumsk/szumskh.html. This translation to English was done from the Yiddish-to-Hebrew translation.

Rabbi Beirinyo [Yisroel Dov Ber Lerner] served as the rabbi in our town. He was a truly righteous man, loved and respected for his goodness. His house was a meeting place for the wise, and “everyone who was hungry shall come and eat” – he was zealous in his observance of the mitzvah of hospitality.

But once, in 1912, the rabbi inadvertently uttered a curse that unfortunately came true in due course.

It happened to a friend of mine with whom I studied in the beit midrash (study hall attached to a synagogue). Since I was present at the time it left a deep impression on me and remained etched in my memory. I am still unable to forget it, although many years have elapsed. I will describe it without any comments of my own.

Our town was divided into two factions. On one side was Rabbi Beirinyo, and on the other side, the new rabbi whom the well-to-do congregants had introduced, claiming that a rebbe need not serve as a rabbi.

Even though they supported Rabbi Beirinyo financially, they themselves brought in the new rabbi and paid his salary. This led to the formation of the two factions.

There was a man in our town, Akiva Woskovoynik who was considered to be a nogid (important person). He was on the other side, so obviously he opposed Rabbi Beirinyo. Akiva was a honey merchant. He traveled throughout the region buying honey from hives. The farmers with whom he traded brought the honey to town.

He had five daughters who, unfortunately, were unattractive. Although he himself was a simple man, he had great ambitions for his daughters. He aspired to marry them off to scholars and learned men. He spared no expense to obtain decent and learned husbands for the girls, and in this he was 100 percent successful.

His oldest son-in-law was Motti Halperin[1], a learned Jew and a great merchant. The second was Shimon Wexler[2]. He too had many advantages, including the fact that he was a successful merchant.

The third was Yosef Shechvitz[3]. He was so well known that he outshone the others. Apart from being a scholar, he was blessed with wisdom and he was a talented merchant. People came to consult with him, and naturally he was very popular and sociable. Since he was a Kohen, he was also chief Kohen in the beit midrash, even though some of the other Kohanim were older. He also served as gabbai (sexton) until his last days.

Naturally all the sons-in-law, just like their father-in-law, were opposed to Rabbi Beirinyo.

When Akiva Woskovoynik died he left his house and his honey business to his son-in-law Yosef the Kohen.

Yosef the Kohen also had other commercial dealings but his main enterprise was honey and wax, because the business had been known for many years and the neighboring farmers visited the house as if it were their own.

Each day, after the mincha (afternoon) prayers, Yosef the Kohen studied gemara (Talmud). He led a peaceful life.

His wife Meita bore him several children, all girls. The seventh child was a boy. The name Yaakov was bestowed upon him in memory of my father.[4] There was great rejoicing in Yosef's home. He prepared a royal feast for the brit mila (circumcision) of his youngest child.

When his daughters were older he allowed them to study. One daughter, the cleverest and most talented, was sent to the Russian school in our town.

For many years Jewish children enjoyed the privilege of being absent from school on Shabbat and festivals. If this cost a few rubles per child payable to the school principal, it was no big deal. Everyone was satisfied, especially since the children were not required to violate the Sabbath. This is how the Russian school was run for a long time. Even hassidim and simple devout Jews allowed themselves to send their children to the Russian school.

Rabbi Beirinyo had not given his consent to this arrangement, but the children needed to be educated. This went on for many years, and peace and tranquility reigned.

Came the day when the school principal received an order from a senior authority obligating all the Jewish children in the Russian school to also attend school on Shabbat and festivals, with no exceptions. The town was in an uproar. They tried to rescind the decree. They even traveled to the chief city, Kremenets, to appeal. But nothing helped. The hassidim were furious and the whole town seethed. The most devout Jews took their children out of the school.

Some of the more well-to-do agreed to a compromise: They would send their children to school on Shabbat on condition they were not forced to write. As usual, bribes were required.

Rabbi Beirinyo was vociferously opposed to such a compromise. He announced that no man should send his children to the school, even for the sake of learning, because of the likelihood that the Shabbat would be violated. He warned the parents that they were responsible for their children, who were themselves not liable.

The hassidim heeded the rabbi and refused to send their children to school. They lobbied hard to influence others to do the same.

The well-to-do parties of the other side, in contrast, weren't in the least disturbed by the declaration of the rabbi and the hassidim, and they continued to send their children to school on Shabbat. So long as the children were not forced to write and only required to learn and listen to what was being taught, they were not vigilant and did not heed the rabbi's decree.

In this way the crisis between the two sides was exacerbated.

Among those who refused to listen to the rabbi's warning and were untroubled was a respected Jew whose small daughter attended the school.

When it became known that many Jews were sending their children to school on Shabbat, including this little girl, there was pandemonium in the rabbi's kloyz (small synagogue), the Torah reading was delayed, and it was decided that the rabbi would go to the beit midrash of the other faction with a minyan (quorum) of hassidim to once again speak out against the violation of Shabbat.

The blame was laid entirely at the feet of that Jew. You have to realize that he was a great and God-fearing scholar. Moreover, he was a Kohen. How could he recite the priestly blessing when his daughter was violating the Shabbat?

In short, this was actually happening, and to Jews… The hassidim were on the warpath. That Shabbat they planned to breach the stronghold of the other group.

And so it happened, on Shabbat before nightfall. The man was studying gemara in the beit midrash, as was his custom every Shabbat. Suddenly the door opened, Rabbi Beirinyo and his minyan of hassidim entered and made straight for the bima (pulpit). The rabbi launched into a sermon about violating the Shabbat.

Most of the people accorded respect to the rabbi who had entered their beit midrash for the first time. They stood up and listened to what he had to say.

But this particular Jew conducted himself differently. He remained seated at the table and continued to study, ignoring the words of the rabbi.

Apparently this infuriated the rabbi to such an extent that he began to preach to this respected Jew in particular. Enraged, he expounded on the verse: “When the daughter of a priest defiles herself through harlotry …” (Leviticus 21:9). The Torah says that if the daughter of a priest violates the holy Shabbat her sin is punishable by burning. Since she was not yet of age, the punishment would fall upon her father.

Rabbi Beirinyo uttered these words and left the beit midrash with his hassidim. The worshipers were transfixed by his interpretation of the verse. I was more shocked than anyone, because the rabbi was even-tempered, and I could not comprehend how such words could have come from his mouth – they were almost a curse.

The event made a strong impression on all those present. The friends of that Jew, in particular, were greatly disturbed. But in the course of time everyone calmed down and the matter was forgotten.

The war broke out some years later. As the battlefront drew closer, we were afflicted with new troubles: all kinds of decrees and expulsions, life became more expensive, prices rose, many products were not available, food was scarce, and there was a shortage of kerosene.

The little that could be obtained was diluted with benzene, despite the dangers it posed.

I remember that it was in the summer of 1917 or 1918 at twilight. People sat outside their houses, talking about the war, the high cost of living, and so on. Suddenly there was a flurry of activity, the sound of running feet, and shouts: “A man is on fire.” From a distance we could see what looked like a tree in flames. People gathered and began crying out that the Jew was burning. His clothes had caught fire.

It happened like this: At nightfall he wanted to light a lamp which had been filled with a mixture of kerosene and benzene. Apparently his wife and children were already asleep, and he wanted to read a book. The lamp slipped from his hand and the kerosene caught fire on the floor. The flames ignited his clothes, which were oily with wax and fanned the blaze. He rushed outside, crying for help. Within seconds he had turned into a flaming torch. By the time people rushed to his aid it was too late. They doused the flames with a blanket, laid him on his bed and brought the doctor, who didn't hold out much hope. The man suffered all night and died the next morning. The town was in mourning, the shops were shuttered during the funeral and everyone accompanied him to the cemetery. His friends were despondent, having seen the rabbi's curse come true before their eyes.

Translator's Footnotes

  1. Vital records from Shumsk show Mordechai Halperin was married to a daughter of Akiva Woskovoynik. Return
  2. Vital records from Shumsk confirm that Shimon Wexler was married to a daughter of Akiva Woskovoynik. Return
  3. Vital records from Shumsk show Yosef Mordechai Shechvitz, son of Moshe, was married to Meita, daughter of Akiva Woskovoynik. Return
  4. Vital records from Shumsk show a son named Yaakov Yitschok born August 16, 1911, to Meita and Yosef Shechvitz. Munya Chazen's father was Yaakov Chazen. Return

[Pages 415-418]

From Shumsk to Tel Aviv

by Rivka (Goldenberg) Erlich

Translated from the original Yiddish to Hebrew by Rivka Erlich and her daughter, Gita Inbar

Translated from Hebrew to English by Rachel Karni

There are events over which the passage of time has no control -- and they disappear from one's memory. Sometimes it seems to me that the events did not really occur or that the passage of time weakens one's memory of them. But now, thirty years from the day I left Shumsk[1], things that happened to me in my childhood and youth are as fresh in my memory as the day they occurred.

I am not capable of writing about all of these things since so many memories from that period impinge on my memory at once -- days of summer and days of winter, ordinary week days and Sabbaths and holidays that were full of the loveliness and purity of that time.

Shumsk, my town, the place where I spent my youth. There I dreamed sweet dreams, and from there I have golden memories. I remember the beautiful Jewish people of the town, but of all of them I see you, my father, a wise respected man, occupied with business matters, with the grain mill, with accounting and with mediation and conciliation, among so many other things. At the same time you were a “talmid chacham” -- a learned Jew -- who was also open and who already saw then that “beautiful Ukraine” was not “ours.” The Ukrainian neighbors and the Polish landlords would always hate us and would be ready at a moment's notice to steal and rob the little we had. I remember so many blue spring days, hours of dawn and hours of twilight, in which we would walk to the Sashy, to the Gorka[2], to the woods of Surage. How beloved are my memories of the clear summer days on the Vilya river. But today all of this is destroyed together with the life that developed in that beauty. Today it is all ruins.

There are pictures that are engraved in my memory from those days: The moments of holiness before the beginning of the Sabbath, when our beloved mother would light the Sabbath candles, covering her eyes with her delicate palms and silently praying for the well-being and health of the family as tears fell from between her fingers, moistening the white Sabbath tablecloth. Her older children were already in America and she felt that the others would soon be leaving for Eretz Yisrael to help to build a Jewish country about which she had heard from her husband, our cheerful father. Father was active in the Keren Hayesod[3] and thus had received a certificate[4] for entry to Palestine. It was decided that the certificate would be for our sister Bat Sheva. Our great happiness was mixed with sadness. From among the twelve children in our family only six daughters remained in our home in Shumsk. Bat Sheva hesitated about leaving for Palestine. Parting was very difficult for her. How would she leave her mother and father and her sisters? In the meantime the validity of the certificate expired -- and so life returned to its normal course.

During this period a daily Yiddish newspaper called Heint, which was edited by Triveks, appeared. The newspaper began to arrange a trip to Eretz Yisrael. One day my father came home and with his wise, quiet smile announced that he had paid for tickets for two of us for this trip and that the two lucky girls who would be going were Hava and I, Rivka. Our joy was great. My heart was pounding. I looked at my mother and saw that her eyes were filled with tears, her face expressing the depth of her emotions. She was already experiencing the sadness of our parting. She felt perturbed because she was spoiling our joy. I didn't continue looking at her because I didn't want to feel unhappy. I ignored her and went on happily thinking of the trip. I was so young. Even today my heart turns when I think of this moment. Why was I afraid of the strength of her feelings? Why did I ignore her at this moment of happiness? And why did I try not to look at her?

When the appointed day for our departure arrived the whole town was in a bustle. We were the heroines of the day. There were already young people from Shumsk in Eretz Yisrael but every departure from the town was an important event. Everyone was happy for us. There were those who were jealous, those who debated, and others who spoke about the wonderful activities of the pioneers in Eretz Yisrael and the hard days that were sure to befall the Diaspora.

It was the end of the winter and the Vilya River was frozen over. Snow covered the town. Snow sleds, in the shape of carriages, arrived at our doorstep. From early morning our large extended family filled the house. Hershel with his entire family, Mika with all of her family and Braina with hers came from Belezerka[5]. The house was full of noise and there were those with red-rimmed eyes. My mother tried to force a smile but her footsteps were accompanied by the sound of weeping and prayer.

When I saw my sisters crying I couldn't control myself and began to cry too. Then my father said, “My daughters! If you find that it is difficult for you, come back home. The house is open to you.” His voice was shaking and I knew the inner struggle he was experiencing. He continued speaking in great pain, “If there is the slightest chance that we too can immigrate to Eretz Yisrael, please write to us.”

Just at this time our sister Surka, who lived in the United States, was visiting us in Shumsk. She had experienced many partings in her life and was very decisive and knew that it was forbidden to yield to weakness. She pursed her lips and urged us to leave the house immediately. We didn't part from our mother, we simply went out in tears and got into the snow sled. We never saw our mother again. Our father accompanied us to Kremenets.

In Kremenets we boarded the train for Warsaw. Surka traveled with us to Warsaw. My father's quiet words from the moments that we were waiting for the train to leave Kremenets are embedded in my memory. He asked us to look at each other and we did so, trying to etch this moment in our memories. It was possible to see the struggle on my father's face to appear happy and confident so as not to sadden us and to make the pain of parting from our home and family easier for us. From the movement of his lips we understood that he was reciting the prayer for the wayfarer. His face was permeated with wisdom, love and pain.

Even today my mother's look follows me. Sometimes I feel her stooping down, taking my hands in her palms and warming them from the bitter cold with her love. I also see my father smile, his eyes wet with tears, as he sees our redeemed Land of Israel.

I knew how strongly he desired to immigrate to Eretz Yisrael, and I had promised him to do everything I could. Nothing would stop us from bringing our parents here. When we were still at home I had told my father, confidently and decisively, that we would see each other again in Eretz Yisrael. My father's eyes shone as he replied, “Of course I hope that we shall be united soon in Eretz Yisrael.”

These last pictures of my family accompanied my sister Hava and me after we got off the boat. We walked the streets of Tel Aviv in a dream. We were in our country, among our people, and everything that we saw was made by Jewish workers. The truth is that we didn't write one word about the economic situation. We wrote happy letters, full of hope. We felt the soil of our homeland firmly under our feet.

A year later our sister Malka arrived. She lived in the immigrant camp on Aliyah Street, not far from Moshavot Square, and now we were three sisters in the country. My brother Zioma, his wife Rivka and their children Tzila and Yishai arrived after Malka did and planned to live here too. They came legally from the United States. We began to make arrangements for the immigration of my parents and our twin sisters Charni and Leah but that year only Bat Sheva arrived. To our great sorrow we did not succeed, and we were not privileged to be reunited with our entire beloved family. Their fate was the same as all of the Jews in Shumsk who perished in the Holocaust.

Translator's Footnotes

  1. Rivka (Goldenberg) Erlich, who resides in Tel Aviv, left Shumsk for Palestine in 1932. She is the daughter of Efroim and Kreintze Goldenberg. This article was written in the early 1960's for this Yizkor Book. Although Mrs. Erlich speaks Hebrew impeccably, she chose to write this article, expressing her longings for Shumsk, in Yiddish, the language she spoke in her youth in Shumsk. Return
  2. The Gorky was a beautiful pastoral hill just outside of the town. It is near the Vilya River, which was the border between Poland and the Soviet Union during this period. Return
  3. Keren Hayesod (Heb.): The fund-raising arm of the Zionist Organization. Return
  4. Certificate: The term used for the document granting permission to enter Palestine as a legal immigrant. These certificates were issued by the British authorities who governed Palestine at the time, and they were distributed by Zionist groups. The number of certificates was severely limited. Return
  5. Belezerka: The author's mother was born in Belezerka , and some of the family still lived there. Mrs. Goldenberg and her husband, Efroim Goldenberg, had resided in Belezerka until he was invited to become the accountant of large grain mills in Shumsk. Return

[Pages 440-441]

Harry Silverberg (Meir-Tzvi, son of Avraham-David)

(From Dos Yiddishe Vort, Winnipeg)

Translated by Shulamit Berman

Translation editor's notes: This piece was originally published in the Yiddish-language newspaper Dos Yiddishe Vort in Winnipeg, Canada. It was translated to Hebrew by Esther Weinschelbaum, and Shulamit Berman translated the Hebrew to English. Harry Silverberg was born as Meir Hirsh Zilberbarg in Shumsk in 1905 to Freyde (Roikh) and Avraham Duvid Zilberbarg. He was one of the wealthiest individuals in Winnipeg's Jewish community and was a leading philanthropist. He was president of Silpit Industries, one of western Canada's largest garment manufacturers. Both Harry and his wife, Sylvia, lost siblings and their parents in the Holocaust.

On Monday, Aug. 14, 1967[1], all of Winnipeg was shocked to hear the rumors – which alas, proved to be true – that Harry Silverberg, the prominent activist and philanthropist, had passed away around 7 that evening at St. Boniface Hospital. Only those closest to him were aware that this fine man had been hovering between life and death for two days. On the previous Friday he had still been seen in his office. But on the following Monday his spirit returned to its Creator.

Harry was born in Shumsk, in the region of Volhynia. He came to Winnipeg in 1929. Life was hard in the beginning as it was for all those who immigrated in the 1900s, but fortune smiled on him and within a short time he had made a name for himself as a well-liked and respected member of the community who donated generously to charity. Nobody ever left his office empty-handed. He never forgot the bitterness of his early years and was grateful to the Almighty that he was now able to give freely to those in need.

Harry Silverberg belonged to every organization, not as a member but as one who contributed to every humanitarian, Jewish, and Israeli cause. He donated freely to all the local institutions in town and helped hundreds of individuals, both openly and in secret. He was one of the founders of the Rosh Pina synagogue – the organizers met in his home – and he served as its president for many years. When Israel Bonds (debt securities issued by Israel in the Diaspora) began, he was its first chairman. He was the director of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, a Hebrew University of Jerusalem council member, a life member of the Winnipeg Minor Hockey Association, and a life member of the board of directors of the home for the aged. Harry was also a member of the National Conference of Christians and Jews, past captain of the yacht club, and president of Hillel. In 1962 he was awarded the National Medal of Honor for his work on behalf of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Recently a Negev Dinner was held in his honor. He is remembered for his kindness and his generosity.

His is lovingly missed by his wife, Sylvia, daughters Nora and Evelyn, his four grandchildren, his brothers Sol in Winnipeg, Sam in New York, and Fred in Montreal,[2] and his nephews and nieces in Winnipeg, Regina, Toronto, New York, and Israel.

On Wednesday, Aug. 17, the funeral service was held in the Rosh Pina synagogue. It was one of the largest ever held in the city. Men and women were in tears as they took their leave of the man who supported them and gave their final thanks to him for all he had done for them. Many non-Jews also attended the service, businessmen and personal friends who came to pay their respects. Eulogies are not permitted on Rosh Hodesh, but it is permissible to praise the deceased. In their addresses Rabbis Meyer Schwartzman[3] and Witty[4] emphasized Harry's fine qualities, his dedicated work for others, his noble character and his good Jewish heart, for all of which he will be remembered in Winnipeg. Cantor Abraham Verrall[5] read a psalm and intoned the El Malei Rahamim prayer for the dead. Hundreds of people accompanied him to his eternal rest in the Shaarey Zedek cemetery.

Jewish Winnipeg has suffered a great blow. The heart of a fine Jew stopped when he was yet in the prime of his life, barely 60, and he is no more. Harry Silverberg, who was still capable of so many achievements, has been taken from us.

Note – One half of the culture hour (1-1:30 p.m.) on Jewish Radio this Sunday will be dedicated to the memory of Harry Silverberg.

Translator's Footnotes

  1. The year 1967 is an error. Harry Silverberg died in 1966. Return
  2. Solomon Silverberg, born as Zalman Zilberbarg in 1896 in Tyliavka, Russia, about 10 miles from Shumsk, died in 1974. Fred Silverberg, born as Efroim about 1903 or 1904 in Shumsk, died in 1971. Both are buried in Shaarey Zedek Cemetery in Winnipeg, as is their brother Harry Silverberg. Return
  3. Meyer Schwartzman (1901-1969) was the chief rabbi of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Return
  4. Rabbi Irwin/Yitzchak E. Witty (1932-2005) was the spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Hamedrash Ashkenazi and principal of the Talmud Torah Day School, both in Winnipeg, at or around the time of Harry Silverberg's death. He was executive director of the Board of Jewish Education of Metropolitan Toronto from 1969 to 1997. Return
  5. The cantor was Orland Verrall (1916-1992). Return

[Pages 442-443]

What Can a Picture Tell Us?

By Etel Kleinshtein

Translated by Rachel Karni

Note: The author of this article, Etel (Kleinshtein) Isakov, was a daughter of Nuta Kleinshtein and Rachel (Weiner) Kleinshtein, who were killed in Shumsk along with their entire families, which numbered more than 60 adults and children. Etel Kleinshtein survived the Holocaust in the Soviet Union and then immigrated to Israel. She passed away in 2007. This article is the last one in the Shumsk Yizkor Book and appears in the section written in Yiddish. It was transcribed from an oral interview given by the author shortly before publication of the Yizkor Book in 1967. We are grateful to Shimon Tzimmerman, a neighbor of Eli Ben Ari (formerly Zuber), for having translated this article from the original Yiddish into Hebrew. The English translation was prepared by Rachel Karni, coordinator of the Shumsk Yizkor Book translation project and edited by Lynne Tolman.

In Shumsk having one's photograph taken was an occasion because it involved financial and emotional effort. Taking a picture for no special reason, why would one do that?[1]

Yet here is a picture of eight naive girls whose sparkling eyes are aspiring to better conditions, to a better life and to a more beautiful future.

How did the eight have their picture taken? Was this a picture of an organization? Where are all the others? Is this a picture of some happy occasion or special event? It is impossible to look at this picture without asking a central question. Where are these girls now? I would not write about this picture at all except for this central question. Where are these girls?

The answer to this question brings me to see this picture as a terrible symbol of something which can, G-d forbid, occur again, and thus the importance of this picture.


Left to right: Lusia Shteinberg, Etel Kleinshtein, Susya Geldi, Zelda Zilber, Sarah Kramer, Hasya Kucyk, Sarah Offengendler, and Vitel Segal


All eight girls lived on the same street in Shumsk. At first, their mothers spent innumerable hours together in long conversations about their daughters, holding us on their laps, walking back and forth with us, their faces beaming with joy. Each mother saw in her daughter the pinnacle of beauty and preciousness. Each “stupid” mother dreamed of all the best for her daughter.

In the course of time this group of girls played together without their mothers in attendance. Together they went to kindergarten, to school, and when they reached the age of 12 to the youth movement “Hechalutz Hatzair.”[2] It was then that they began to think of Israel and a different life.

In school, and everywhere in Shumsk, the girls in this picture were called “the girlfriends” but each one had her own name.

I, Etel Kleinshtein, am next to Sarah Offengendler, Hasya Kucyk, Lusya Shteinberg, Sarah Kramer, Sonya Offengendler, Susya Geldi, Zelda Zilber, and Vitel Segal.[3]

From “Hechalutz Hatzair,” Sarah Kramer, Zelda Zilber and I left for “hachshara”[4] to a new Jewish future. But then the war broke out. Our homes and families beckoned and so we returned to Shumsk, hoping that our parents would solve our problems. But our dear parents, dear Jews, in that generation were unable to solve their children's problems.

Of all the eight girls in this picture I am the only one to have survived. All the others were taken, together with all the Jews of Shumsk, to the Krelitz Hills, the hills that had served as our playground and now became the mass grave of my seven friends[5] and of all the Jews of Shumsk who were murdered by the Nazis.

A picture. A warning. A picture of a great heartache.

Translator's Footnotes

  1. The author, Etel (Kleinshtein) Isakov, in an oral communication with Rachel Karni, coordinator of the Shumsk Yizkor Book translation project, wished to correct this erroneous sentence. She believed the error was caused by a misunderstanding on the part of the interviewer who transcribed her words in preparation for the publication of the Shumsk Yizkor Book. She emphasized that having one's picture taken was a common occurrence in Shumsk in the 1920s and '30s, as can be attested by the numerous photographs of her family and friends taken in Shumsk that were in her possession; the picture in this chapter was but one of those. Many other Shumskers who came to Eretz Yisrael or to America before World War II and who had family who remained in Shumsk also have photographs they received from their Shumsk families. The stamp of the Mermelsztejn Photography Shop can be seen on the backs of many of these pictures. Return
  2. Hechalutz Hatzair (Heb.): Literally, “the young pioneer.” A Zionist youth organization, very large and active in Shumsk, that educated members in socialist values and trained them for pioneer living in Eretz Yisrael. The worldwide movement Hechalutz was founded in Odessa in the first decade of the 20th century. Return
  3. In recounting the names, Etel mistakenly repeated the name of Miss Offengendler -- once calling her Sarah and once Sonya. Thus she gave nine names while the photo shows eight people. Return
  4. Hachshara: training. In this case the training site for the Hechalutz Hatzair members preparing to settle the land of Israel was a farm outside Shumsk. Return
  5. Rachel Karni, translation project coordinator for the Shumsk Yizkor Book, compiled the following information about the girls in the photograph. Her sources of information were the oral communications of Etel (Kleinshtein) Isakov and Penina (Dorfman) Sharon, friends of these girls, and Pages of Testimony submitted to Yad Vashem.
    Sarah/Sonya Offengendler, daughter of Moshe and Devorah Offengendler, was a member of Hechalutz Hatzair. Her father owned a business, selling iron used in the construction of buildings. He was chosen to be a member of the Shumsk Judenrat in the ghetto period. In addition to Sarah, 13 other members of the Offengendler family perished in Shumsk in August 1942.
    Hasya Kucyk, daughter of Nachman and Bluma Kucyk, was born about 1920. Her father was the owner of a bakery. She was a member of Hechalutz Hatzair. Her parents and her siblings, Masha, Tonye and Lubye, also perished in Shumsk
    Lusia Shteinberg, daughter of Meir Shteinberg, was born in 1921. She was a member of Hechalutz Hatzair. She was the only one of the “girlfriends” to marry, and she had a child. She and her husband, who was born in Germany, did not live in Shumsk, but with the outbreak of the war they returned to Shumsk, where they perished along with her father and her siblings, Bitya, Buzya and Moshe.
    Sarah Kramer, daughter of David Dov- Beer and Perl Kramer, was born about 1926. Her father traded in horses. He was shot and killed in the Shumsk ghetto prior to the massacre of the Shumsk Jewish community. As the author relates, Sarah was a member of Hechalutz Hatzair and was at the hachshara farm when war broke out but then returned to Shumsk. Her mother and her siblings, Yerachmiel, Yitzchak and Breindel, also perished in the massacre in August 1942. Her brother Avraham Kramer survived the war in the Soviet Union and immigrated to Israel, living in Haifa. The articles Avraham Kramer wrote for the Shumsk Yizkor Book appear on pages 87-95 and 125-127.
    Susya Geldi, also called Shoshana, daughter of Nachum Asher and Chana (Bryk) Geldi, was born in 1921. Her father, who was born in Rachmanov, was a merchant. Her parents and three of her siblings perished in Shumsk. Her brother Pinchas Geldi survived the war, hiding with Shtundists in the vicinity of Shumsk, and later immigrated to Israel. His name is mentioned in a number of articles in the Shumsk Yizkor Book.
    Zelda Zilber, daughter of Baruch Zilber and Babeh (Offengendler) Zilber, was born in 1926. Her father was a teacher in the cheder (school) of Shumsk. She was a member of Hechalutz Hatzair and was at the hachshara farm when the war broke out and she returned to Shumsk. She was killed along with her family in August 1942.
    Vitel Segal, daughter of Yosef Segal and Rayzil-Shayndil (Karushay) Segal, was born in 1923. Her father was a watchmaker. More than 45 people with the surname Segal perished in Shumsk. Vitel's cousin Shmuel Segal, who was living in Lanovetsy, survived the war and immigrated to Israel. Return


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