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6. Education

Jewish children were of course educated in “Cheders” (school rooms where boys between the ages of 3 and 13 were taught the basics of Judaism). Among the “Cheders” in the shtetl there was one “Cheder” that was somewhat modern. Not that it was, God forbid, an “improved Cheder” (with subjects other than Judaism). Rather, its modernity expressed itself in the fact that the teacher in this “Cheder,” Tuvia Kling, a “Yeshiva” (seminary) student, told his pupils not to call him by the title “Rebbe” (“Rabbi”) but to call him “Teacher, Sir.” He also innovated that two students every week would take turns being monitors whose job it was to monitor cleanliness and the wiping of the blackboard (yes, there was also a blackboard in this “Cheder”). This “Melamed” (“Cheder” teacher) also taught his students Hebrew, a bit of grammar and how to write a letter.

Among the “Cheders” of the shtetl, the small “Cheder” of Rabbi Aharon, the son of Rabbi David Kruglyak, the Rabbi of the community, stood out. This Rabbi Aharon, the “Yeshiva” student, had already been ordained as a Rabbi but did not yet have a pulpit in any of the shtetls or cities. But since he needed to support his family he in the meantime gathered around him some of the best boys in the shtetl, sons of important wealthy men, and taught them Torah and a “page of Gemara” (“Talmud”). After that, he was offered a pulpit in the city of Bohuslav in the Province of Kiev (Kiev Guberniya) and he remained there for a few years until after the First World War when he had a bad accident and was left a permanent paraplegic. His daughter who lived in Palestine brought him to Palestine.

In addition to the traditional “Cheders” there was also a private Jewish–Russian school whose founder and principal was a man by the name of Mendelson who was from another city. This Mendelson was certified to teach the Russian language and was somewhat eccentric, a kind of “Yeshiva” student who had “missed the boat.” Since he was not able to teach all of his many students (he had a few classrooms), his wife and his young son and daughter served as teacher's aides. Later, the Tuvia Kling mentioned above, joined his school to teach Hebrew to the students of his school one hour a day. In that way they fulfilled their “Cheder” obligation to study the Torah…

Mendelson introduced a new custom to the shtetl. With the arrival of the month of May, the month of spring, he would go out with his students into the nearby forest and they would spend the whole day celebrating the “Holiday of Spring” in the bosom of nature. Of course many young men and women would also throng to the forest to have a good time, not to mention hawkers of cold drinks and sweets.

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In addition to this Jewish–Russian school there was a real Hebrew school in Ternivka where only Hebrew was spoken. All of the subjects were taught in Hebrew and the students of this school spoke and conversed among themselves, at least within the walls of the school, only in Hebrew. And if anyone uttered a foreign or Yiddish word in the school he was fined…

The founder of this Hebrew school was a young teacher, a native of the shtetl of Savran (about 40 miles South of Ternivka), whose name was Notel (Natan) Shargorodsky, brother of Dr. Fanya (Pu'ah) Shargorodsky (1879–1950), the writer/educator who published Hebrew educational books for new immigrants to Israel and also invented a new kind of Hebrew shorthand. Toward the end of her life she directed the pedagogical library of the Teachers' Union in Israel.

This Hebrew school developed nicely but for some reason N. Shargorodsky suddenly left the shtetl of Ternivka and moved to another city and the school was closed, much to the satisfaction of the “Melameds” (“Cheder” teachers) but to the disappointment of the students and others. After that, another two “modern” schools were opened in which the students learned a half day in Hebrew and half day in Russian. One of the schools belonged to the teacher Avraham–Yankel (Ya'akov) and the other belonged to the teacher Eisenberg, the son–in–law of Yitzchak–Shmu'el (Itzig–Shmelkes).

In addition to these schools and to that of Mendelson there were two Russian schools in the shtetl, one whose curriculum was religious (Russian Orthodox) and belonged to the Church and had only four grades and the other a government elementary school with eight grades that had a good educational standard. Very few Jewish boys studied in this school because studying there required writing on the Sabbath.

Among the few Jews who studied there were the children of the “Gabbay” (Director) of the Beit Hamidrash (one of the synagogues), a wealthy and respected Jew (Sh. K.) but not Torah observant and they of course wrote on the Sabbath. This fact that the children of the “Gabbay” of the Beit Hamidrash wrote in public on the Sabbath aroused the fury of the pious and of the Rabbi and they demanded that he either take his children out of this Russian school or that he resign as “Gabbay.”

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Those who were not satisfied with just an elementary school education traveled to other cities that had secondary schools and tried to get in to them. Of course this was a “luxury” that only the children of the rich and the well–to–do could allow themselves. There were a few boys, among them my brother Moshe, who traveled to study Torah at the famous “Lida Yeshiva” (Seminary) (near Vilna but now in Belarus) where they studied both Torah and secular studies, an education that was equal to four grades of secondary school. They also studied modern Hebrew literature and the teacher was the well–known pedagogue Pinchas Shifman (1873–1945) of blessed memory who also taught here in Israel. The founder and the head of this “Yeshiva” was the famous Rabbi Y. Reines (1839–1915), the founder of “Mizrachi” (a religious Zionist organization).

A few boys, including those who had already studied at the “Lida Yeshiva,” also traveled to Palestine about a year before the First World War to study at the Jaffa “Gymnasia” (secondary school) and at the Jerusalem Seminar. Among these boys were the veteran Israeli educator Yehoshu'a HaMe'iri and his teacher–brother Shraga of blessed memory. The Haifa engineer–surveyor Ben–Tzion Yanay son of David Yanovsky also immigrated with his family to Israel and studied at the Reali School in Haifa and at others.

In 1919 Ternivka activists took it upon themselves to establish a Hebrew “Gymnasia.” There was a huge old castle in the shtetl that one of the landowners had built about two hundred years earlier. It had numerous rooms, halls and cellars and had been closed and shuttered for many years and only recently had part of it been used to store grain. This huge castle, which had spawned many legends within the shtetl, was built in the shape of a closed rectangle and in the middle of it was a giant courtyard with four gigantic doors in two of its sides.

It seemed that it was just made to serve as a “Gymnasia.” The community started to renovate, students started to enroll and they even hired teachers to teach at the “Gymnasia.” Dr. Fogelman from Uman was hired to be the principal of the “Gymnasia.” He is Dr. Gil'adi (his Israeli name) who was the principal of the Ge'ula Trade School in Tel Aviv, Israel and who now has a psychiatric medical practice.

But just as the shtetl was about to celebrate the opening of a Hebrew “Gymnasia” where all of its subjects would be studied in Hebrew only, a dark wave of pogroms swept over the Jewish shtetls in Ukraine and the “Gymnasia” was never opened. Dr. Gil'adi himself was miraculously saved from death at the hands of a murderous gang at the Koifman home (where he was temporarily staying until his family could be brought to the shtetl) when the youngest of the Koifman brothers, Vanya, was murdered, may God avenge his blood.


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7. Private Teachers

There were boys and girls who learned Russian not at school but from a private teacher, especially those who studied only in a “Cheder” (school for young boys). Usually the private teacher would come to the home of the student for an hour a day or every other day and teach the student how to read and write in Russian and in the process provide the student with a general education – geography, arithmetic, etc.

These teachers who taught by the hour were not permanent residents of the shtetl. They came from other places for a year or two and after they earned some money they would leave either to complete their studies or to teach in another shtetl. Even the children of the pious would learn some Russian so that they could read a sign or write an address.

A young boy or girl who knew how to write an address to America was much respected by those who needed such an address. These were mostly very poor folk. Women whose husbands or sons had immigrated to America because of the precariousness of the times would come to these “experts” or to the pedantic “Melamed” (teacher of young children) Sha'ul who knew how to write “addresses” and play chess or to the pharmacist so that they could write an address for them. These unsophisticated and simple women whose letter in Yiddish was not even written by themselves considered the writing of an address to America “supreme wisdom” and magical.

By the way, it was not customary for young girls go to a “Cheder” to learn how to read using a “Siddur” (Prayer Book). They learned the alphabet and how to read from a teacher of small children who would go from door to door teaching the young girl for about half an hour. The name of this “Melamed,” the teacher of young girls, was Yontel (Yom–Tov), an unusual name for an Eastern European Jew (the name is more common among Middle Eastern Jews).


8. The Emissary

One day about two years before the First World War as we youngsters were sitting around the table in the “Cheder” of the “Rebbe” (teacher), Rabbi Aharon Kruglyak, the son of the Rabbi of the shtetl that I already mentioned in the chapter on education, Chapter 6, and swaying over the “Gemara” (Talmud) and repeating the lesson in a bittersweet melody, the door of the “Cheder” opened and in walked a man with a dark complexion who did not at all resemble the Jews of the shtetl.

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When the “Rebbe” asked him what he wanted, it became clear that the stranger did not at all understand the question that was asked of course in Yiddish. After that the man started to speak in a strange language that we the students and even our “Rebbe” himself could hardly understand even one word. The “Rebbe” and we students looked at the man as if he were “a chicken among men” and only after much effort and after the man had inserted here and there a word in Yiddish and a word in Russian which it was obvious that he had apparently only recently acquired, did the “Rebbe” understand what it was all about. But it was not easy for the “Rebbe” to understand his words because his ear was not attuned to and used to hearing this kind of speech.

It turns out that this strange man was a Jew and not just any Jew but a Jew from the distant land of Persia, from the land of Shushan (Susa) the Palace, of Akhashverosh (Xerxes) the King and Esther the Queen, of Mordechai the Jew and the wicked Haman and this Jew was not speaking in the language of Persia and Media but in the Holy Tongue (Hebrew). That is what the “Rebbe” Rabbi Aharon told us.

We were really astonished at what our ears were hearing. Is it possible that he is now speaking the Holy Tongue since we the students who are studying “Chumash” (Torah), the Prophets, the Mishna and the Gemara (Talmud) know the Holy Tongue? Why do we not understand even one word of his Holy Tongue? There was no resemblance whatsoever between the language of the Torah and the “Siddur” (Prayer Book) which are written in the Holy Tongue and his Holy Tongue.

Maybe he is speaking in the language of the “Targum” (Aramaic) we said to our “Rebbe.” Then the “Rebbe” explained to us that the Holy Tongue spoken by the Jews of Persia and Sephardic Jews in general is the same Holy Tongue as our own because their Torah is the same as our Torah and that goes for the rest of the Holy Scriptures, except that they pronounce the consonants and the vowels differently.

The “Rebbe” himself tried to speak with him in Ashkenazi Hebrew but his speech was like the speech of man who has had his teeth ground down with gravel. It was with pity that we watched our “Rebbe” tire himself out trying to talk to the Jewish man from “Shushan the Palace.” But only after great mutual effort and after the Jewish man from Persia took a document out of his pocket, a letter of authorization, and showed it to the “Rebbe,” did he understand the purpose of the arrival of this Jewish man.

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And this is what our “Rebbe” told us according to the Holy Tongue of this Jewish man and his document:

“Last year severe political riots broke out in Persia (the 1910 Shiraz Blood Libel) and many of the evil Persians took advantage of the situation in the country to carry out pogroms in several Jewish communities in Persia. The perpetrators murdered, wounded, raped and looted, set fire to and burned many homes and brought destruction and annihilation to thousands of Jewish families in Persia.

Now that the riots had subsided and order had been restored these wretched communities decided to send emissaries to the Jews of the Diaspora and among them the Jews of neighboring Russia and ask them to stretch out a helping hand in order to rehabilitate those destroyed communities and generously donate money for the benefit of the injured. Among those emissaries who were sent was this Jewish man who was provided with a letter of authorization from the heads of those communities and their rabbis to collect donations of money.”

After the “Rebbe” had given his donation, the emissary requested of him that he too would add his signature (the emissary knew that he was a Rabbi the son of a Rabbi) to the signatures of the Rabbi and the “Gabbays” (Directors) of the synagogues in the letter of recommendation that he had been given. The Jews of the shtetl were requested in this letter to donate generously for the benefit of the injured. The “Rebbe” agreed to his request and signed the letter.

After the emissary left, we the students were sorry that we had not asked him why the Jews of Persia had not risen up against their enemies as they had in the days of the wicked Haman and those who wished them harm and why they had not smitten all of their enemies with the blow of a sword killing and destroying as written in the Scroll of Esther (Book of Esther)… But when we asked the “Rebbe” this question he evaded answering us…

The image of this Jewish man from Persia–Media, the land of Akhashverosh and Queen Esther, remained before our eyes for a long time…


9. Library and Theater

Neither a library nor a theater existed in the shtetl until the 1917 Revolution. Those who wanted to read a book would buy it or borrow it from one another. In 1912 an agent of the Hebrew book publishing house “Central” in Warsaw came to the shtetl and sold books worth hundreds of rubles to a few Hebrew book aficionados. Even my father, my teacher and master Tzvi Wortman, of blessed memory, bought many Hebrew books from the agent, among them “Each Generation and its Scholars” by Isaac Hirsch Weiss (1815–1905), the books of Peretz Smolenskin (1842–1885) and Micha Yosef Berdichevsky (1865–1921) and others.

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By the way, every “Leil Nitl” (Christmas Eve), when it is not the custom of the pious to read a religious book, our neighbor Rabbi David Kruglyak would send over his son to us with a request to read a secular book, “Each Generation and its Scholars” on the development of the Oral Torah (Talmud) by the scholar Isaac Hirsch Weiss.

And it goes without saying that no theater at all existed in the shtetl. Except in certain districts, a Yiddish theater did not exist because the Russian government forbade it. But there was a “shadow of a theater” in the shtetl. I mean the “Purim Schpiel” (Purim Play). A barber, Yisra'el “Trilipki” (this nickname was given to him because his upper lip was cleft –“Trilipki” – having three lips), would organize every year a troop of actors who would put on the traditional plays, usually in the homes of wealthy people – ”Mordechai and Haman,” “Joseph and His Brothers,” etc. as beautifully described by Sholem Aleichem (Shalom Rabinovitz, 1859–1916).

When the Revolution broke out in 1917, a few young men and women took it upon themselves to contribute to the cultural life of the shtetl. They founded a public library whose books they collected from various homes – Hebrew, Yiddish and Russian books. Donations of money were also collected for the library. At the head of this activity for the benefit of the library was the attractive and educated Chava, daughter of Micha'el Yanovsky, who died in her prime shortly after that. At that time an amateur theater was also established. The director was a wandering actor. He received half of the revenue and the other half was divided between the library and the local Zionist organization.

The plays were in Yiddish. At one of the plays, “God, Man and Satan” by the playwright Ya'akov Gordin (1853–1909), a tragedy almost occurred. A student, Sanya by name, the son of the pharmacist, one of the actors in this play, was supposed to “hang himself” in one of the scenes but a mishap occurred at the time of the “hanging.” The stool that was under the feet of the “victim” was knocked over and he was left hanging between the ceiling and the floor and almost suffocated. They rushed a doctor to his side and he was miraculously saved.

A year later, a troop of wandering actors appeared in the shtetl. They were able to put on only a few plays because shortly after their arrival, a wave of pogroms swept the shtetls in the area and no one felt like watching plays. Since the roads were too dangerous to travel, these actors were stuck in the shtetl and remained there for a long time. Had the community not supported them they would have starved to death. Only afterward, when the wave of pogroms and murders subsided, did the actors wander on.


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10. The Performer Okun

Like all of the shtetls, Ternivka was not accustomed to performers. What performer would agree to come down from the “Heights of Olympus” of the big city to the remote provinces? Nevertheless, the shtetl was honored with a visit from a multi–talented young performer by the name of Okun. He charmed the audience at an evening of readings and dramatization that he performed in the shtetl in the summer of 1918. At this event he read stories from the Bible, stories from the Talmud and the stories of I.L. Peretz (1852–1915). He brought the images to life as with a magic wand and he dramatized them with an artistic flair.

Among the stories from the Talmud that he read/dramatized was this emotional story. When the High Priest saw that the Temple in Jerusalem was burning (in the year 70 CE) he went up to the top of the roof of the sanctuary with groups of novice priests who were holding the keys of the sanctuary in their hands and they said: “Lord of the Universe, since we did not have the opportunity to serve You, we are delivering to You the keys to Your House” and they threw them Heavenward.

When the artist dramatized the Temple going up in flames and the High Priest enveloped in flames on the burning roof, raising his hand and throwing the keys Heavenward, a shudder went through the audience. They visualized the flames consuming the clothes of the High Priest as he stood serenely but also in a flurry of emotions and threw the keys Heavenward and it seemed to the audience that they themselves were witnessing the burning of the Temple.

And finally he read one of the stories of I.L. Peretz about two sisters, one of them modest and righteous and the other promiscuous and licentious but when they die the tables are turned. The “promiscuous and the licentious” one who was living a life of impurity against her will in the castle of the landowner had a pure soul and longed for a life of purity and holiness among her people and when she died an angel with wings of pure white carried her soul to the Gates of Paradise.

Whereas the “modest and righteous” sister who was living among her people was longing all of her life for a life of promiscuity and licentiousness like the landowners and her modesty was just a disguise. And when she died, an angel with black wings leapt forth and grabbed her black soul and threw it into the fires of Hell.

All of the audience was agitated by the power of the performance and the power of the stark contrasts between these two worlds that he presented. This performance by the artist was remembered by those present for a long time. Such is the power of a great artist!


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11. Synagogues and Houses of Prayer

There were five houses of prayer for the Jews in the shtetl:

  1. The “Beit Midrash” (House of Study) in which guest preachers would preach their sermons in order to raise money for “Yeshivas” (seminaries) in Russia or in the Land of Israel;
  2. The old “Kloyz” where the Rabbi prayed;
  3. The new “Kloyz,” a handsome building in the center of the shtetl that was established by “modern” “Yeshiva” (seminary) students;
  4. The “Kleizel” (small “Kloyz”) where mainly the inhabitants of the last streets near the river (the Udych River) prayed;
  5. The Great Synagogue, a tall and large building was made from panels of wood on the outside and clay and bricks on the inside. This is the “Schul” (Synagogue) in which mainly tradesmen would pray.
They prayed in this synagogue only on the Sabbath and Holidays and the rest of the week they would pray in two small “Schilechlach” (little synagogues) on either side of the entrance to the Great Synagogue. The worshippers in the two “Schilechlach” were mainly “Kadish sayers” in the shtetl (“Kadish” – Prayer for the Dead). These “Kadish sayers” would get up at sunrise in order to pray. There were a number of “Minyanim” (prayer quorums) so that they would have time to travel at daybreak to the “Yarid” (market day in another shtetl), to their businesses and to their trades.

The following occurred when the “Schul” was being built over one hundred years ago. The lands of the shtetl belonged to the Greek “Puritz” (landowner) but there were plots of land within the shtetl that had been in the possession of the Jewish community for a long time and did not belong to the landowner. The Great Synagogue was being built on one of these plots of land.

The landowner claimed that the plot of land was his and one Sabbath day as all of the Jews were wrapped in their prayer shawls and praying in the synagogues, he sent Christian workers to tear down the building that he claimed was on his land. When it became known to the worshippers that the walls of the “Schul” were being torn down, all of the Jews, still wrapped in their prayer shawls, burst out of the synagogues and attacked the workers and drove them away in disgrace. And so the synagogue was built and erected in all of its splendor.

Years later, after the synagogue was renovated, a young painter by the name of Heinich who had studied at the Academy of Art in Odessa (afterwards, during the period of the Revolution, he studied medicine and became a surgeon) was inspired to create beautiful paintings on the high “Eastern Wall” of the synagogue on either side of the new and beautiful Holy Ark. On one side he painted a deer and on the other side he painted a lion and under them the verse from the Talmud (Ethics of the Fathers 5:23): “Be swift as a deer and strong as a lion to do the will of your Heavenly Father.”

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It was the only work of art in all of the synagogues of the shtetl. The beautiful Holy Ark in the “Schul” was tall and a real work of art. A master carpenter made it over a period of many months. It was donated by a childless wealthy Jewish tax collector from the nearby village of Antonivka (about 10 miles to the East). A holiday was declared in the shtetl on the day that they brought the Holy Ark into the synagogue. Hundreds of Jews and even non–Jews crowded around the Holy Ark that was carried into the Great Synagogue with singing and music and the accompaniment of musical instruments.

By the way, in order to take the Holy Ark out of the carpenter's workshop they had to tear down one of the walls. During the ceremony of bringing in the Holy Ark wine and cake was distributed to the celebrants. The Great Synagogue, the old “Kloyz” and the “Beit Midrash” stood next to each other in the form of a triangle. They stood close to the Police Station and the Fire Station. A young and burly Jewish blacksmith by the name of Bar–David was in charge of the Fire Station and the lighting of the large gas lamps that hung from very tall poles and illuminated to a great distance.


12. Revolt of the Tradesmen

Ayzik Atran was for many years the “Gabbay” (Director) of the Great Synagogue (the “Schul”). He was a simple but assertive Jew, a trusted ally of the landowner and also somewhat close to the authorities. He managed the synagogue with assertiveness. In fact, he was always elected by a small active minority of the worshippers, his friends and those who were close to him. He treated his “subjects,” the tradesmen with contempt and would discriminate against them when it came to giving them “Aliyot” (plural of “Aliya” – to be called up to the Torah) and other honorary roles and he would distribute the “Aliyot” and other honorary roles mainly to his allies and to those who were close to him – horse traders, butchers and others.

And then, one Sukkot Holiday (Tabernacles) when they would elect the “Gabbay,” they got up the courage and revolted against the “Gabbay for life” and elected as “Gabbay” one of their own. But the assertive “Gabbay for life” was not at all alarmed by them and their large numbers and he said to them that not only would he occupy the “Gabbay's” chair for life but his son, Berele (Dov), who was born to him late in life, would also sit in the “Gabbay's” chair. And just as if a new “Gabbay” had not been elected, he continued as usual to go up onto the “Bima” (platform from which the Torah is read) and sit in the “Gabbay's” chair and distribute “Aliyot.”

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He relied on his powerful supporters and on the landowner and on the authorities. At this, the tradesmen ran out of patience and forcefully removed him from the “Bima.” At that point, serious fist fights erupted between the two sides even to the point of spilling blood and after that fist fights would erupt out on the street whenever the two sides would meet and this lasted a few days and caused a desecration of God's name. In the end, the many tradesmen were victorious and the authorities were forced to approve the new “Gabbay” who had been elected by a huge majority.

In protest against this “shameful deed,” the assertive “Gabbay” and those who were close to him left the rebellious “Schul” and rented for themselves a large room and there they established their own “Minyan” (prayer quorum). They dreamt of eventually establishing their own synagogue but it never came to pass. After two or three years this “Minyan” disbanded and all of the worshippers were scattered and spread out among the existing synagogues. Thus ended the revolt by the “proletariat” against the tyrannical “dictator” in Ternivka.

By the way, there were also two churches in Ternivka, one Catholic and the other Russian Orthodox. There was a large square near the Catholic Church at the entrance to the shtetl where the Jews would stroll on the Sabbath just before sunset. The relations between the members of these two faiths was acceptable. Often non–Jews would come to the “Rabbin” (Rabbi) and request of him that he adjudicate their quarrels and disagreements, usually relating to money, because they knew that the “Rabbin” would not distort the truth and that he would be just and could not be bribed.

And there were also cases where Christians would come to the Rabbi in order to convert to Judaism. But, he would usually turn them down and advise them to contact a Rabbi in a large city and in that way he would avoid the conversion problem to which there were many obstacles in Russia.


13. Chatan–Torah
(Person called up for the reading of the last portion of the Torah on the Simchat Torah Holiday.)

As in all of the synagogues and houses of study in the Diaspora, “Aliyot” were also sold in the new “Kloyz” in the shtetl and whoever paid the highest price would get an “Aliya.” One year, when the “Shamash” (sexton) of the new “Kloyz,” “Moishe the Redhead,” announced the sale of “Chatan–Torah” (see above) a serious competition broke out between two rich men, Chaim Koifman, one of the respected brothers and “Moishe Shachor” (“Black Moishe”) which is what he was called in Hebrew because of his dark skin, an up and coming “Gvir” (rich man) – a poor man who had become rich.

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He was a clever and cunning Jew. Whenever the “Shamash” would announce the sum that was being bid for the “Aliya” he would outbid him and this would go on and on. The worshippers would gasp at the size of the sums being bid in this contest, sums for “Aliyot” that had until now never been heard of. Every one of the worshippers in the “Kloyz” was curious to know who would win this contest. When the sum finally rose to a huge amount, Chaim Koifman quit the contest and “Moishe Shachor” won this “fat Aliya” – “Chatan–Torah.”

Many of the worshippers were doubly disappointed. First of all, that Chaim Koifman had not won “Chatan–Torah,” a crown that was more deserved by him than by his rival and secondly, because he quit the competition too early. If Chaim Koifman had remained in the contest, “Moishe Shachor,” whose ambition it was to win this “fat Aliya” no matter what the cost, would have continued to raise the amount and the “Kloyz” would have benefited. That year this “Chatan–Torah” cost “Moishe Shachor” 50 rubles, a huge amount in those days.

By the way, “Moishe Shachor” was, like his rival Chaim Koifman, the owner of a flour mill although he was not really the owner because he leased it. This mill which made him very rich was located in the village of Yurkivka in the vicinity of Ternivka (about 5 miles to the North–East). By making large donations he managed to push himself into the company of important people. He donated generously to charitable organizations and to religious functionaries. He renovated and painted the rooms and the halls of the beautiful home that he had bought from the rich Tokman family that had moved to another town. He used oil paint which cost him a huge amount of money.

In order to gain more respect in the shtetl, he sent his son, a lad of about 13, to the “Gymnasia” (high school) in Haisin, the chief city of the district. He spent huge amounts of money on the education of this young man at the high school – a large sum to the principal of the high school and to the examiners, nice gifts for the principal and for the teachers of the lad's class in honor of every Christian holiday and every birthday, a nice monthly salary for a private teacher who helped the lad prepare his lessons, tuition for the high school, room and board in the amount of 40 rubles a month to the lad's host, a respected lawyer etc., etc. But all of this was worth it to the father who had ambitions that his son would become a doctor.

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When the son would return home for the holidays and the father would go with him to the new “Kloyz,” his dark face would radiate great happiness. The son who was dressed royally in the uniform of the high school with its shiny buttons would attract the attention of the worshippers. The father noticed this and his eyes would exude great satisfaction.

Perhaps you are thinking it a trivial thing that a high school student should become a doctor? The writer Yehuda Steinberg (1863–1908) well described in one of his books the Jewish high school student who would come with his father to the synagogue on a holiday and the worshippers who would approach him in awe as if he were royalty and would greet him with a big hello because a Jewish high school student in the small shtetls was a rare thing in the days of the Tsar because there was a quota on Jews.


14. Medical Services in the Shtetl

Even though the hospital was located in the middle of the shtetl the Jews almost never used it, except for very poor people. In this hospital of the “Zemstvo” (local authority) all of the medical staff and all of the employees were non–Jews. The hospital was not particularly attractive to the Jewish patients because of the Christian atmosphere and its low standard. The Jews of the shtetl had a Jewish doctor who had been hired by the community and was partially subsidized by it. The Jewish doctor mostly supported himself through his private medical practice.

There were also two Jewish “Feldshers” (auxiliary health workers) in the shtetl, one of them an old Lithuanian Jew, Avrumke–Roifeh (Avraham the Doctor) and the other a giant Jew Velvel–Roifeh (Velvel the Doctor). They also usually provided their patients with the medications that they themselves prepared. It was mostly the poor and people who were not ill enough to call a real doctor who used their services. The “Feldsher” would receive one third of the salary of a doctor. Even non–Jews would some time use the services of these Jewish “Feldshers” even though they had their own hospital and clinic through the “Zemstvo.” In the shtetl there were also a Jewish lady dentist and a professional Jewish midwife in addition to the amateur Jewish midwifes.

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In addition to these doctors and “Feldshers” that have already been mentioned there lived on the outskirts of the shtetl an elderly Polish doctor, a specialist, who was brought to the shtetl from abroad many years earlier by the landowners. The Jews from time to time required the services of this Dr. Mikocki whom they very much admired. In the event of serious illness they would transfer the patient to the nearby city of Uman (about 20 miles to the North–East) where there were tens of doctors belonging to all of the faiths and among them the famous Dr. Lisowski.

It was not a rare occurrence that when a wealthy person in Ternivka got sick that his family would invite a big doctor from the city of Uman. This doctor would receive at least 50 rubles over and above the cost of his trip. It was also the custom to invite to the consultation the Jewish doctor and the elderly Polish doctor, Dr. Mikocki. Some of the Jews of the shtetl who were suffering from aches and pains would take advantage of the arrival of the doctor from Uman and come to him to ask his medical advice. When a serious operation was required, the Jews would travel or would be transported to Odessa to the famous private hospital of the surgeon Dr. Zilberberg.

Rheumatism patients would travel to bathe in the waters of the Liman (Estuary) near Odessa which was about 200 miles from Ternivka. Lung patients would travel in the summer to the sanatorium in the pine forest in the vicinity, near the village of Zholonek (about 15 miles to the South–West) or further away in Sosnivka (about 90 miles to the North–West). The hypochondriac wives of rich men would travel to Crimea to take the “grape cure,” more as a matter of status than for healing and health. The doctors would get rid of their rich hypochondriac patients by advising them to go to Crimea to take the “grape cure.”

The young people of the shtetl founded a society called “Visiting the Sick and Charitable Sleepover.” Their task was mostly to help sick poor people find a doctor and also various medicines and even a bowl of soup or a piece of chicken. Quite often these young men and women, members of this society, would fill the role of “nurse” and they would take turns sleeping over in the home of a poor sick person in order to take care of them. The society existed from donations of money contributed by the residents of the shtetl.


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15. Epidemics of Plague,
Spanish Flu and Typhus

An epidemic of Plague broke out in the middle of the First World War. The authorities undertook strict measures in order to prevent the spread of the Plague. At that time, a Ternivka Jew, A.V. and his two sons, were at a “Yarid” (market day in another shtetl) and he came down there with the Plague. His sons feared that if their father's illness became known to the authorities that they would take him to a hospital, poison him there and burn his body. Such a rumor had spread among the masses.

So what did they do? They immediately hired a wagon and fled using side roads. When this became known to the authorities they immediately sent people to pursue them and apprehend them and bring them back because they feared, and rightly so, that they would spread the disease to other places. But those sent to apprehend them could not find them because they had fled into a forest. There in a forest keeper's hut they treated their father in a primitive manner but it did not help. He died that very night. The sons didn't of course reveal the nature of their father's illness to the forest keeper and miraculously they themselves did not come down with the disease.

Under the cover of night, the sons snuck their father's body back into the shtetl and they quietly and secretly buried him because they feared that if the authorities learned of his death that his body would be burnt and that he would not, God forbid, receive a Jewish burial. They apparently “appeased” the Ternivka authorities with a bribe.

In order to prevent the spread of the disease the authorities warned the public not to drink water that had not been boiled and even erected a special facility in the middle of the shtetl, a tank for the boiling of water where everyone could come and receive boiled water for free.

After World War One the Spanish Flu spread throughout Europe. It was called the Spanish Flu because it originated in Spain and spread from there killing many victims. More people died from the Spanish Flu than died in the War. The disease killed a few victims in Ternivka also and among them a young man, an only and beloved child. A Typhus epidemic also broke out in the shtetl during the period of the gangs and the Civil War and it also killed many victims.

When the Klimenko Gang burst into the shtetl one night in the summer of 1919 they fired into various Jewish homes. A number of Jews were murdered by these shots. One of these bullets struck the foot of a young Jewish man with a family who lived on the top floor of his father–in–law, Avraham Madanek's home. The house had two floors and was in the center of the shtetl.

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After the gang had departed they rushed a doctor to the wounded man. When the doctor examined the foot he advised that the man be immediately transported to the city of Uman (about 20 miles to the North–East) where there were expert surgeons. The family immediately hired a wagon and transported the wounded man to Uman. But, tragically, they were forced to return on their tracks to the shtetl because the road to Uman was full of murderous gangs and the journey involved a real risk of death.

The doctors of the shtetl (there were three) who were rushed into a consultation about the patient were all general practitioners and not surgeons and they didn't know what to do. But because they were afraid that the swelling of the foot due to infection and blood poisoning might spread to the rest of his body, they decided with a heavy heart and since they had no choice, to amputate the foot. And this difficult and serious operation was performed in the simple hospital in the shtetl where such a serious operation had never been performed before. It is possible that if he had been treated by an expert surgeon that his leg could have been saved.


16. Tragic Events

On the night of the burning of the Chametz (leaven burned on Passover Eve), at midnight in the year 5674 (Friday, April 10, 1914), we were awakened to the sound of screams and cries that emanated from the home of our neighbor, Chaim–Hirsch Kirzhner. Other neighbors were also awakened. When we rushed to his home we learned about the great tragedy that had befallen our neighbor.

In honor of Passover the whole family had bathed in a hot bath that stood on an apparatus that was heated by wood. First the children bathed, then the father and then the mother. Apparently, when the mother was bathing, the chimney became blocked and the poisonous fumes from the burning wood filled the bathroom. When the father got up in the middle of the night, he noticed to his horror that his wife was not there. He immediately hurried to the bathroom and found his wife lifeless. He immediately awakened his children and when they saw that their mother did not answer them they raised a hue and cry. The neighbors rushed a doctor to her but all of his efforts to save her were in vain.

This tragedy on Passover Eve shocked the shtetl. This young and pleasant woman left behind four orphaned children.

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After a few years another tragedy happened to this family. One of the daughters, a girl with an oriental kind of beauty, committed suicide because of unrequited love for a student, a boy from the shtetl from a distinguished family. A year later another young girl committed suicide, also because of unrequited love.


17. Strange Visitors

A. The apostate Rosen

Almost every year, when the courts in the capital city St. Petersburg were in recess, a famous lawyer by the name of Rosen would come from there to the estate of his Christian wife in the vicinity of Ternivka. It was said that this woman had a dispute with her relatives over the estate and that Rosen was her lawyer. Afterwards, when he won the court case for her and she received the estate as her inheritance, he married her. This lawyer was a convert from Judaism.

Because it was very difficult for a Jew in the days of the Tsar to be accepted into a university and even harder for a Jew to be “crowned” with the title “accredited lawyer” (very few Jews in Russia were privileged to be so), Rosen, after much deliberation, decided to take the fateful step and leave his Jewish faith.

But even though he was a convert from Judaism, he was not like other converts from Judaism who held their people in contempt and distanced themselves from them. On the contrary, he loved his people and took an interest in their fate and in the fate of the Jews of the shtetl. Often, during his vacation when he came to his estate to rest, Jews would come to him and request of him donations of money for the benefit of the institutions of the shtetl and he would receive them with respect and would donate generously. He even visited the shtetl and gave a large donation for the building of the new bathhouse that was being built at that time. Thus did the apostate Rosen “atone” for his sin against his people and his religion.

 

B. The “national–preacher”

Among the different religious preachers who would come to the shtetl to give their sermons there appeared one day a “Zionist preacher” secularly dressed and he introduced himself on the announcements that were posted in the synagogues and on his business card as follows: “the noted Zionist preacher, M. Klausner.”

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He introduced himself as a relative of the writer Yosef Klausner (1874–1958). Of course, the intellectuals of the shtetl received him with honor and they hosted him in the home of one of the respected wealthy men who were Zionists. He stayed at the home of his host for about a month and on the Sabbath he would preach loftily in the synagogues about “Zion and the redemption,” empty, meaningless words. Two of the Zionists in the shtetl volunteered to go from door to door to collect donations of money for the “noted national preacher.” In the end it turned out that his name was not Klausner and he was not a relative of the writer Klausner. His name was Kleiner and he permitted himself to make this “slight change” in order to add to his worth.

 

C. The “authoress”

One day a woman of about 50 years old came to the shtetl and let it be known that she was a writer and as proof she produced a ”story” that she had written which anyone who wished could see. And indeed, she had written a “story” in Yiddish that was pitiful and tasteless and she would go from door to door to sell this “story,” a thin little booklet, and not only in Ternivka. In order to be rid of this annoyance people would buy this thin booklet and donate whatever they wished.

But she was not satisfied with just selling the booklet. She would insist that they arrange home “reading receptions” for her where she would read her “great creation.” She did not dare to request a public reading reception because it required a special permit from the police and that was not easily granted. The audience would sit on pins and needles and would have given her all of the money in the world if she would just stop reading so that they could escape. I no longer remember the name of the story but the name of the “authoress” was Le'ah Opshatka.


18. The Turkish Bakery

Turkish bakeries were to be found in many cities and towns in Russia and Ukraine. The Turkish immigrants were experts at managing bakeries and their various baked goods endeared themselves to their clientele. A Turkish bakery was also opened in Ternivka in addition to the Jewish bakery that was in the shtetl.

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The owner of the Turkish bakery was about fifty years old, of dark complexion and a pockmarked face, always sullen and easy to anger and spoke a broken Russian. This Turk who was no “Apollo” had, to the amazement of the humble shtetl, a young Jewish wife from the nearby shtetl of Teplik where he first had a bakery. That a Jewish woman would follow a non–Jew, be he even an Ishmaelite, “our cousin,” was very perplexing and unusual in the shtetl. There were people, especially self–righteous women, who would not accept this situation and would keep their distance from her. This young woman whose name was Rachel was a simple woman and the daughter of very poor parents. She started off as a salesperson in his bakery in Teplik and eventually became his wife but they were not married by a Rabbi.

This young woman was very clever and a good salesperson and in fact she took care of the business of the bakery more than he did. She would go to the flour merchant to buy flour and she was the sales clerk. Of course her knowledge of Yiddish made it easy for her to negotiate different matters relating to the bakery and trade contacts. Her life with this angry, gloomy Turk was not idyllic. More than once, when he would get drunk, he would beat her but even so, she would not leave him. On the holidays and especially at the Passover “Seders” she behaved like a “Kosher Jew” and she would be the guest of her poor relatives in the shtetl and celebrate with them the holidays (she would pay them of course). And so this young woman lived her double life.

When the First World War broke out, Turkey as an ally of Germany, declared war on Russia (Russia declared war on Turkey on November 2, 1914). Then all Turkish citizens in Russia were arrested and among them the owner of the bakery who was a Turkish citizen. After that he was expelled to Turkey and Rachel, even though she was not his legal wife, went with him to a remote village in Anatolia where he had a family – a wife and children!


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19. The “Grabarny”

That was what a small Jewish neighborhood with a few families that was far from the shtetl and isolated from it was called. It was situated in a small valley next to the houses of the Ukrainians. The land of the neighborhood didn't belong to the Greek landowner of the shtetl and not even to the Ukrainian village but constituted a kind of small Jewish autonomous area. All of the land of the small valley of the “Grabarny” was well watered. At a depth of two to three meters it was possible to find good water. That is why it was here that the Jewish water carriers would draw their water. The Jews of the “Grabarny” were primarily occupied with the tanning of hides from which they made simple summer sandals (called “postales” in the language of the common folk) that the Ukrainians would wear in the summer. The houses of this neighborhood were not situated in the valley itself which was too waterlogged but on a small hill next to the small valley.

The Jews of this neighborhood which was like a “mini state” suffered quite a bit from their isolation from the shtetl. There was no transportation between this neighborhood and the shtetl and people would usually traverse the distance on foot. The children who studied in “Cheder” (school for young boys) would travel a great distance every day as did all of the inhabitants of the neighborhood that had business to attend to in the shtetl whether it was to make purchases in the shops, to slaughter a chicken at the “Shoichet” (Kosher slaughterer) or to pray in the in the synagogue on the Sabbath. And they especially suffered from the non–existence of normal social relations with their acquaintances and friends because it was hard for them to frequently visit one another, especially in the fall when it was rainy and muddy.

It would seem that because they were isolated from the shtetl that a Jewish girl from the “Grabarny” became close to a non–Jewish boy from the adjacent Ukrainian houses and she ended up running away to her lover's home. When it became known to her parents who were simple and good people they made a great fuss, but to no avail. She remained in the home of the young villager. When many Jews streamed toward the Romanian border (after 1920) her family also left the “Grabarny” out of embarrassment and pain and crossed the border and immigrated to Palestine. Their son had immigrated to Palestine earlier with the group of pioneers from Ternivka. After living in Palestine for a few years the family immigrated to the United States. The son who also immigrated (he had a barber shop on Herzl Street in Tel Aviv) later visited Israel.


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20. “Disputed Waters”

Usually the Jewish water carriers would bring water to the houses of the Jews in their own barrel and with their own horse. But quite often the Jews suffered from a shortage of water either because the water carrier became ill or because his horse became ill or died. And until the Jews of the shtetl collected donations of money so that the impoverished water carrier could buy himself a new forlorn horse a long time would pass. The Gentiles who would come to the shtetl, especially those who came to the “Yarid” (market day) would also suffer greatly from the shortage of water. They themselves and their animals needed drinking water and there wasn't any. So the “Zemstvo” (local government authority) dug five new wells on different streets. The water was not particularly good. They used the wells only when they had no choice. But this water did make it easier for the residents.

It happened that two Jews, one a well–to–do blacksmith who also had a Matza factory and the other a chicken and egg merchant, became envious of the streets on which the wells were dug so they decided to also dig at their own expense a well on their street near their homes. So there arose the question of where to dig the well. These two Jews did not live next to one another but across from one another, one on one side of the street and the other on the other side of the street. To dig the well in the middle of the street was not possible as it was a thoroughfare and wagons passed through it. It was possible only to dig the well on the sidewalk near one of the two homes.

Of course, each one wanted the well to be next to his home (the width of the road was perhaps about 30 feet wide). The two, even though they were friends, remained stubborn until in the end, each one started to dig, at his own great expense, a well sixty or more feet deep next to his home. But to the great disappointment of the two, the water was bad and very bitter and it was impossible to drink and could only be used for washing floors. And so two wells stood desolate one across from the other as a testimony and a monument to the stubbornness of two Jews, members of a “hard necked people!”


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21. Frozen to Death

On a winter's day in 1912, on a Thursday, the day of the “Yarid” (market day) in the village of Zholonok, about 15 miles from Ternivka, there was a raging blizzard that covered the land with a thick white carpet of snow and blocked the roads. Miraculously, tens of Jews returned safely that evening from the “Yarid.” But five Jews, among them a woman, did not return and were missing. On Friday morning as the blizzard continued to rage and heap huge snow banks, two courageous wagon owners, at the request of the families of the missing people, tried to go out and search for those who were lost. But after a short while, they were forced to return on their tracks because the horses sank up to their stomachs in the snow banks and couldn't continue any further and the blizzard also blinded them so that they could see almost nothing.

The snow continued to fall for three full days from Thursday to Sunday. And so it happened for the first time in the history of the shtetl Ternivka that on the Sabbath no Jew, not even the Rabbi, could come to the synagogue to pray. All the houses of prayer were locked shut because snow banks as high as the houses blocked their entrances. No one could get out and no one could get in. On Sunday the blizzard died down and the residents for the first time were able to leave their homes and with various implements to clear a path to the street and to the store. It then became known that three of the men and the woman were found frozen to death.

The farmers of a village who found them frozen in a sleigh tried by various means to revive them, such as immersing them in ice water, a folk remedy for victims of freezing, and other means, but to no avail. The woman indeed showed some vital signs but she did not recover and died. The sorrow in the shtetl over their deaths was great. All of the searching for the fifth missing person was for nought. When many weeks went by and his body was still not found, the family of the missing person (who left behind a young wife and small children), brought a Jewish psychic from one of the shtetls and he promised that he would find the body of the missing person.

The psychic ran around in the nearby fields (it was after Purim – March, 1912) with many of the residents of the shtetl following after him but all of his searching was unsuccessful and the body was not found.

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In the month of Nisan (April, 1912), when the last of the snow banks had completely melted, the body was found in the Russian Orthodox cemetery a few kilometers from the shtetl. This young man had been hired by some butchers at the “Yarid” to accompany the cattle they had bought at the “Yarid” back to the shtetl.

He followed the cattle on foot and when he got close to the vicinity of the shtetl he apparently got lost and entered the Russian Orthodox cemetery which was completely covered with snow to a great depth. Tired and helpless, he leaned against a tree and fell asleep and apparently froze to death. The snow which continued to fall completely covered him and the tree so that no one could see him. Only in the month of Nisan, as mentioned before, when the snow had completely melted did the cemetery guard notice the body and notify the authorities. After an investigation it became clear that this was the body of the fifth missing person and he was given a Jewish burial with many people attending the funeral.

The tragedy of those who froze to death shocked and stirred up the emotions of the residents of the shtetl for a long time!


22. How Were They Saved from Freezing?

On that same Thursday, a store owner, a resident of Ternivka by the name of Sholem–Leizer was returning from the city of Uman where he had bought merchandise for his store. Because of all of the snow that had piled up on the road, the sleigh with the merchandise got stuck and could go no further. The store owner and the Ukrainian who owned the sleigh didn't know what to do but to their joy they saw nearby in the field an abandoned shack and they were able to find there shelter. This rickety shack provided them with cover from the snow that continued to fall but not from the biting cold that froze their blood.

In order to save themselves from the death that hovered over them, the two kept themselves warm…by wrestling. During the three days that they were stuck in that wretched shack, most of the time they wrestled to keep themselves warm. They hardly slept because during sleep the danger of freezing is seven times greater. While they stood and leaned against the wall, one of them would doze a bit while the other would remain awake and stand guard in order to wake up the dozer from his nap so that he didn't go to sleep forever. After that the other would doze a bit while the first would stand guard and they kept taking turns. And that is how the Jew and the Ukrainian were saved from death by this rickety shack. In the shtetl rumors had spread that Sholem–Leizer and the Ukrainian had frozen to death but the rumors turned out not to be true.


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23. The Boycott of the Butcher

On one of the intermediate days of Passover, a butcher went to the “Pristav”( Chief of Police) to buy a calf from him for slaughter. In honor of the successful conclusion of the purchase (of course, the “Pristav” always comes out on top when he sells to a Jew) the “Pristav” honored the butcher with a cup of frosty beer and they toasted each other. It happened that Simcha Koifman, one of the Koifman brothers who was a regular with the “Pristav” entered and caught the butcher in his transgression as he downed the last drop of beer. The rumor quickly spread in all of the shtetl that Me'ir the butcher drank beer with the “Pristav” on Passover which is one hundred percent “Chometz” (leavened food is forbidden on Passover).

His customers immediately stopped buying meat from him and they boycotted his butcher shop. When the butcher saw what the cup of beer had caused him, he ran to the rabbi of the shtetl, Rabbi David Kruglyak, and he wept and pleaded with him that he save him from this misfortune, from the boycott of his butcher shop. He apologized and justified his actions by saying that he was ignorant and didn't know that beer was “Chometz.” The rabbi found him a respectable way out of this nasty business and to make his butcher shop Kosher again and he advised the butcher to travel to his “Rebbe” (Chasidic Rabbi) and that he would certainly find a fitting way out and give him a “Hechsher” (“Kosher” certificate) for his butcher shop.

The butcher didn't take long to think and immediately hired a wagon and hurried to his “Rebbe” in Savran (Rabbi David Gutterman, died 1912), a distance of some 40 miles from Ternvika. He of course did not come to him empty handed. The “Rebbe” gave him, after he had heard all of the details, a “grand declaration” in a number of copies and the butcher posted them in all of the synagogues and in other public places in the shtetl.

The wording of the “grand declaration” went something like this: “Since this Me'ir in question was in error and accepted the penance of “fasting, prayer and charity” and since “penitents are superior to even perfect saints,” and since “we help those who have come to be purified,” etc., etc. we therefore give testimony and recommend that he is “Kosher” and his butcher shop is “Kosher” and it is permitted and even a “Mitzvah” (holy duty) to buy from him “Kosher” and even “Glatt Kosher” (meticulously “Kosher”) meat and let the humble eat and be sated.”

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Even the sextons who received their salaries from the meat tax proclaimed in Yiddish from every “Bima” in the synagogues (raised platform for the reading of the Torah) the words of the “Rebbe” in the “grand declaration” so that the women would also hear. Gradually his customers returned to buy meat from him. From that day on the butcher stayed far away from beer!


24. The Plant Cutter

No he wasn't God forbid a heretic or a non–believer and he didn't cut the “plants of religion.” He was a religious Jew like most of the rest of the Jews of the shtetl. He would only cut the leaves of the tobacco plant. The evil regime in Russia would issue from time to time edicts against the Jews and their ability to make a living in order to persecute them. More than one Jew was forced to violate the unjust laws of the evil regime and to occupy himself with means of livelihood that were “not kosher” from the point of view of Tzarist law.

That is how one handicapped Jew in the shtetl supported himself, by secretly cutting tobacco leaves. He would sell this cut tobacco only to people he could trust and of course cheaply as it was “exempt” from government excise, a heavy tax. As mentioned, the “plant cutter” was handicapped and walked with the aid of a wooden leg that had been fitted for him by a carpenter. It was told that he became handicapped due to a sudden search conducted by the police when due to great panic and fear he tripped and his leg was injured. But apparently there is no substance to the story (a play of words on the Hebrew word for “leg”).


25. Drafted Army Recruits

Ternivka was a kind of government administrative center for the whole region. For instance, the “Pristav” (Police Chief) who was in charge of three shtetls, Teplik (about 14 miles North–West of Ternivka), Khashchevata (about 16 miles South of Ternivka) and Ternivka, set up his headquarters in Ternivka and from there he directed his “lofty government.” By the way, it was rumored that the income of the “Pristav,” not God forbid from his government salary which was very meager, was fifteen thousand rubles a year and because of that it was the ambition of all of the Police Chiefs to attain this position in Ternivka.

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A special military commission which included doctors, officers and clerks would also come to Ternivka every year in the fall to examine the drafted army recruits, both Jews and Ukrainians. Thousands of young men and also many of their parents would gather together from the above mentioned shtetls and from the many villages. The “Starosta” or the Chief Man of each village would accompany the young men from his village and he was responsible to the authorities for the good behavior of the recruits from his village. Of course the reinforced police would also keep an eye on these recruits. These villagers would usually stay in the Jewish inns and the income of the shtetl would soar.

There was a custom among the Jewish recruits that about a month before being called to the army that they would get together at night and spend the time together in light entertainment and a bit of “acting up” in the streets of the shtetl. Often they would pull pranks on various residents. For instance, they would use something to lock doors from the outside or they would change the signs on stores, etc. By the way, there were young men who would purposely go without sleep on the final nights and would force themselves to fast so that their thin bodies would be thinner still so that they would perhaps be disqualified from the army.

The “examining commission” had a tradition of many years that it would examine the Jewish draftees who were few in number first and then the Ukrainian draftees who were many. Of course there were those on this commission who would accept bribes. I remember one year that among the Jewish draftees there were many who were disqualified from serving because of various deformities and not all of them were unintended. So then in order to fill the “Jewish quota” the commission also drafted Jews who were an only son who were usually exempt from service. When their mothers saw this they broke out in weeping and wailing and were about to break into the office of the commission to protest this abominable injustice that was being done to them and to their only child but the police used force to disperse them.

That same year the shtetl was all in a rage over the fact that Pinchas (Pini) the Rabbi's son, an intelligent and very popular “Yeshiva” (seminary) student was taken into the army. He was taken into the army even though his eyesight was poor and he had to wear glasses. Only after a few months and after two local intermediaries were sent to the chief city of the Province (of Podolia), Kamenets Podolsk and not God forbid empty handed, did they succeed after much effort and large bribes to get him released. Unfortunately Pinchas passed away in the “prime of his life” three years after he married, leaving behind a wife, an infant and parents. May his memory be blessed.


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26. The 1905 Revolution

The fervor of the 1905 Revolution also reached Ternivka. The Postmaster in the shtetl who was a member of the Black Hundreds (an anti–Semitic organization) organized a large demonstration of local farmers, a demonstration in support of “Batyushka Tsar” (“Daddy Tsar”). They moved through the streets of the shtetl in large numbers after a festive prayer service in the church and they enthusiastically cried out “Long Live the Tsar,” “Long Live Holy Russia” and ”Long Live the Holy Russian Orthodox Faith.” They would accompany these loud cries by simultaneously throwing their many hats into the air until it looked like a veritable cloud of hats. The cries of “Hurrah” and “Long Live” echoed incessantly.

It is understandable that this enthusiastic parade and the “patriotic” cries to defend the “Throne” that “evil men” and “Zhidi” (Jews) were trying to overthrow sent a shudder of fear through the Jews of the shtetl and they quickly locked themselves in their homes. They were particularly fearful of the day of the “Yarid” (market day) which was quickly approaching. But thank God it all transpired peacefully and things calmed down. Of course the Police who kept order and prevented rioting can be given credit for that.

As the Revolutionary fervor increased the Tsar was forced to give Russia a “Constitution.” When elections to the “Duma” (Russian Parliament) were announced, Ternivka also participated in them. The vote was given only to property owners. Henrich Slozberg (1863–1937) of St. Petersburg presented his candidacy. He was a well–known activist, a great and famous Jewish jurist and one of the leaders of the all–Russia Kadet Party (Constitutional Democratic Party) that campaigned for a constitutional democratic monarchy like in England. He was not a Zionist.

He “descended” from the capital city to the cities and towns of Ukraine and he attempted to convince the Jews to vote for him. He also visited Ternivka and gave a speech in the Great Synagogue. The very fact that this famous jurist had come from the populous capital city to a small and remote shtetl like Ternivka was a “major event” for the residents of Ternivka and huge crowds came out to hear him speak.

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He gave a speech in flowery Russian but it is most doubtful that the majority of those present understood what he was saying. In his flowery speech he promised the Jews of the shtetl that he would fight in the Duma for “equal rights” for the Jews and the improvement of their economic and religious conditions, etc. After that many people voted for him since he promised “all things good” to the Jews of “Mother Russia.”


27. Ternivka and the Romanov Dynasty

In 1913, on the three hundredth anniversary of the House of Romanov (ruling dynasty of Russia), the authorities held many large celebrations. From all corners of Russia various delegations that had been organized by the authorities came to express their submission to the “Throne” and their great joy at the longevity of the “wonderful” Romanov Dynasty. A representative who would participate in one of the delegations to the Tsar was also chosen from Ternivka “Volost” (center of government for the villages in the area) where a large statue of Tsar Alexander II the “Liberator of the Peasants” stood.

The village of Ternivka was picked and the representative was a local Ukrainian, young, husky, affluent, intelligent and with an impressive appearance by the name of Mikita. He accepted this exalted mission with both joy and trepidation. It is no small matter that flesh and blood should stand before the Tsar, “the anointed of God!”

In honor of this mission he wore splendid clothes and purposely peasant clothes and not, God forbid, city clothes, which he was warned against by the government officials who were in charge of this matter. He and the rest of the delegates were also instructed on how to behave in front of the Tsar and how to bow to him, also what to answer the Tsar if he should ask them a question. Mikita was among the delegates who were privileged to present themselves to the Tsar.

When he returned afterward to Ternivka he related “miracles and wonders” about his interview with the Tsar. He related that the Tsar had approached him and held a button on his peasant coat and had asked him where he was from and what he did. He had answered him that he was from the Province of Podolia, etc.

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It is highly doubtful that the Tsar recognized the name of this province because there were 170 provinces in Russia and how could he know the names of all of the provinces. All of the Ukrainians in Ternivka Volost were jealous of Mikita because he was privileged to see the Tsar's radiant face. It is understandable that Mikita was not happy about the Revolution and the death of the Tsar and his family!


28. Christmas

Christmas was also a holiday for the Jews because almost all commercial activity ceased and the Jews rested. Some would take advantage of this time to visit their relatives and their children who lived in other places. By the way, Ukrainians, usually the poor, would pay holiday visits to their Jewish acquaintances where they would spread wheat kernels, a symbol of a year of blessing and plenty. Of course they wouldn't do this for altruistic reasons only. The Jews would give them coins as a holiday gift.

Another Christmas custom was that a group of young Ukrainians would get dressed up on Christmas Eve in various disguises of which the main one was in the image of a cow called “Malanka.” These “actors” would pay theatrical visits to the houses of the Jews on Christmas Eve and “perform” there. Of course they would not leave empty handed. Ukrainian women would also bring the children of their Jewish acquaintances “Pysanky” (painted hard boiled eggs), usually in red, on Easter. In turn the Jews would honor their Ukrainian acquaintances with Passover Matzah.


29. The Mediator

There were in Ternivka, as in all of the Jewish shtetls, a few Jews who made their living from “luft gescheften” (wheeling and dealing). Among these, one Jewish man by the name of Netan'el stood out, a respected wealthy man, clever, sharp, who supported himself “with his cane.” Dressed in his holiday best he would walk around the shtetl with his cane and would “hunt prey” with which to feed the members of his family. He had no permanent vocation.

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One day he would be a grain merchant, another day he would be a broker, still another day he would be a money lender to the Ukrainian ranchers in the area and still another day he would be a mediator, for pay of course, in various trade and money disputes between Jews. That is how he would support his large family, eight sons and daughters, may God protect them from the evil eye.

His eldest son immigrated to Canada to escape conscription into the Tsar's army. His eldest daughter fancied herself an “intellectual” because she had read “Anna Karenina” by Tolstoy and “Sanin” by Artsybashev…

One evening, a common young man, a minor grain merchant, came to her parents' home accompanied by a matchmaker to see the “intended bride,” the “intellectual” who was so well spoken of. When the young man sat down at the refreshment table the “intellectual” opened her mouth with pearls of wisdom and in shtetl Russian she asked the “groom” a “cultural question:” “Have you read Tolstoy?” This simple young man knew very well the Ukrainian language in which he would negotiate with the Ukrainians in matters of trade but it was very doubtful that he knew how to read Russian and it was even more doubtful that he had ever heard the word “Tolstoy.”

When he heard the question of the “intellectual,” he got up from the table and said in his mother tongue Yiddish: “Honorable Miss, instead of asking me whether I have read Tolstoy, it would have been better if you had asked me whether I have the means with which to support a wife and children.” With that he left the “salon,” angrily slammed the door and walked away leaving the refreshments on the table and the “intellectual” and her parents pale–faced.

As mentioned above, Netan'el had a son in Canada and also a brother. The two of them put pressure on the “mediator” to leave the pogroms of Russia and its “luft gescheften” and immigrate to Canada, the land of freedom and equality, the land of “good times.” The son and the brother entreated him with various reasons and among them these important reasons: a) In Canada he wouldn't have to worry about a dowry for his older daughters because in Canada, as a nation of immigrants, there is a surplus of men and a shortage of women and the men will grab his daughters like “hotcakes” without a dowry. b) Soon it will be the turn of his second son to be conscripted into the Tsar's army so it would be best that he leave Russia early before they prevent him from leaving.

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They tempted the “mediator” until they succeeded. And then one fine day, he liquidated his “luft gescheften” and sold his house and furniture and immigrated to Canada with his large family. After they arrived in the land of “freedom and of eligible men” and after the festive family welcome he had to worry about practical matters, about making a living. It became clear to the “mediator” that as a somewhat older man and the reigning head of a family he was redundant in Canada. He would have to be dependent on his sons and daughters who would work in factories or as pedlars or newspaper sellers because in Canada there was no need for mediators or brokers or any of the other “luft gescheften.”

He fell flat on his face. How could it be that he who in Ternivka was a “big shot,” a “mediator” whose every word was doted on could fall so low, an idler dependent on his sons and daughters. This was not going to happen. He decided to return to the Russian “paradise” where he could once again be a “big shot,” a “mediator,” a broker, a money lender and support himself “with his cane.” So he left! Only his second son who was about to be conscripted into the Russian army stayed in Canada.

When the family returned to the shtetl, he again bought a house and furniture and he bought himself a permanent pew in the “Beit Hamidrash” (synagogue) and he again made his living from “luft gescheften” and walked around the shtetl with his cane as before. “There is no country as wonderful as the country of ‘Fonye Ganef’ (the Tsar)” he would say as he twirled his cane in the air!


30. The First Gramophone

The Jews of Ternivka like the Jews of the rest of Eastern Europe loved to listen to ”Chazones” (cantorial music). Whenever a guest “Chazan” (Cantor) would occasionally come to the shtetl and pray at the Great Synagogue, almost all of the Jews of the shtetl would crowd their way in. Afterwards, they would express their opinions on the music of the cantor and on his voice. Often a “Wunderkind” cantor would come and pray before the Holy Ark (of the synagogue). Among these “Wunderkinder” was the boy–Cantor Yudl–Yehuda who became the Cantor of the synagogue at the “Tradesmen's Center” in Tel Aviv. He was about eleven years old and all of the Jews “licked their fingers” over this “Wunderkind.”

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And so, the Jews of Ternivka got to hear not only regular Cantors but also famous Cantors like Kwartin (Zavel Kwartin, 1874–1952), Sirota (Gershon Sirota, 1874–1943) and others. And how did famous Cantors like Kwartin and Sirota come to perform in a remote shtetl like Ternivka?

This is how it happened. There was a childless Jewish man in Ternivka, a well–to–do money lender, always dressed in his holiday best, polished and pressed. He was bored due to his idleness so he became the first Jew in Ternivka to buy a gramophone and records, “Chazones” records, in Uman. Of course, not many people could permit themselves to buy a gramophone which cost a huge sum of money when they first came out.

Only a fortunate few who were invited to his home had the privilege of seeing this wonder the gramophone and to hear “Chazones” records. When the guests would hear Kwartin's “Hashkivenu” (from the Jewish prayer book) they would just melt from the sweetness and would float to high heaven, the heaven of music.

It is true that regular Jews were not privileged to see this gramophone wonder but they were privileged to hear its music. On fine summer evenings the owner of the gramophone, Moishe Altman, would open wide the windows of his home in order to enjoy the fresh air and the gramophone would play its melodies. Many Jews would gather near his home and would listen in silent awe to the music that flooded their very being. That is how the Jews of Ternivka were privileged to hear the great and famous Cantors Kwartin, Sirota and others.


31. A Tale of a Milchig (Dairy) Meal

It was a custom of Ya'akov Koifman, the eldest of the Koifman brothers, to invite a few of the more prominent worshippers at the old “Kloyz” (small synagogue) where he worshipped to a meal at his home (the rest of his brothers worshipped at the new "Kloyz”) on the “Jahrzeit” (memorial day) for his father Avraham Koifman, of blessed memory. Avraham Tepliker, a bright and respected scholar (but unfortunately also a bit of a beggar) was among these guests.

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Once, when Avraham Tepliker arrived for this rich meal which he looked forward to with much anticipation, he found among the guests Shmu'el Baratz, a clever well–to–do Jew. Since the meal had not yet been served to the table, Shmu'el Baratz snuck into the kitchen and saw that they were preparing a rich “milchig” (dairy) meal and suddenly a prank popped into his head. He said to Mrs. Koifman: “I see that you are preparing a dairy meal for the guests today but I don't feel like having a dairy meal right now. If you don't mind, please give me something ‘fleischig’ (a meat meal).”

Mrs. Koifman acceded to his request and served him a plate of chicken gizzards and liver that was sitting in a cupboard in the kitchen. Shmu'el Baratz took the plate and thanked her and returned to the dining room. He approached Avraham Tepliker and said: “Mrs. Koifman sent you, in the meantime until the meal is served, this first course. You are no doubt hungry.” Avraham Tepliker was happy both for this fine portion of food and for the attention from Mrs. Koifman and he swallowed the food like it was going out of style.

After a few minutes Mrs Koifman and the maid served the guests the dairy meal on trays filled with all good things – blintzes filled with cheese and dripping with sour cream, kreplach filled with mashed potatoes and floating on butter, fish fried in butter, fragrant and delicious borscht with sour cream and butter floating on it, wonderful kugel, sweet and fried in butter, omelettes, custard, pancakes and for dessert chicory with milk and excellent butter shortbread.

When Avraham Tepliker saw this meal fit for a king, this rich dairy meal, his eyes grew dark in their sockets. The enjoyment of all of these wonderful dishes was forbidden to him because he had just eaten a meat dish (it is forbidden to mix meat and milk). Avraham Tepliker realized that the clever joker Shmu'el Baratz had pulled a prank on him so that he would not be able to enjoy this wonderful meal.

At that moment Avraham Tepliker was ready to “devour” Shmu'el Baratz for “turning his world upside down” (a play on the Hebrew words) by denying him this meal fit for a king. He only calmed down when Mrs. Koifman promised him that when he would come to her home at the same time on the following day, that she would serve him the exact same dairy meal. And that is how Shmu'el Baratz pulled a prank on poor Avraham Tepliker at Avraham Koifman's “Jahrzeit!”

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By the way, it was told in the shtetl that they once saw Avraham Tepliker eating warm bread that had just been taken out of the oven followed by a glass of cold water. They said to him: “Avraham, God be with you. Don't you know that you are putting your life at risk? You might God forbid die from eating this combination.” He answered them: “It is doubtful that I will die if I eat warm bread and after that drink cold water but it is certain that I will die if I don't eat bread and I don't drink water…!”


32. “Aliya” (Immigration) to Palestine

A. During the ”Second Aliya” (1904–1914)

These immigrants did not immigrate to Palestine just to study. They also immigrated in order to work the land and to preserve it. In fact, there were only a few immigrants from Ternivka just as there were few immigrants during all of the Second Aliya, one from a shtetl and two from a city. Among these Ternivka immigrants was Yisra'el Meisel of blessed memory, a great grandson of one of the Chasidic “Rebbes” (Rabbis). He ran away from a “Yeshiva” (seminary) in Skvira where he was studying and immigrated to Palestine without the knowledge of his family.

In Palestine he experienced all of the metamorphoses of the workers of the Second Aliya. He was an agricultural worker in various settlements. He was a member of Kibbutz Tira near Haifa that later ceased to exist. He finally settled in Tel Adashim in the Jezreel Valley. After the State of Israel was established (1948) he went to the Negev Desert (southern Israel) to instruct the young “Moshav” (agricultural settlement) workers in agriculture.

Uri Gurfinkel who was an intelligent “Yeshiva” student also immigrated to Palestine at this time followed by his father–in–law Refa'el Taft and his sons. Two of Uri's grandsons, his daughter's sons Yochanan and Amram who were from Kibbutz Kfar Menachem, were killed in the Six Day War (1967). One was a bachelor and the other was married leaving behind his parents, a young widow and an infant son. May God avenge their blood.

Avraham Eisenberg (Barzilai) was also among the immigrants to Palestine at this time. He initially lived in several countries before he finally arrived in Palestine from Argentina and settled in Rosh Pina where he was an agriculturist. After a while he brought his family from Argentina.

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B. During the “Third Aliya” (1919–1923)

In 1920, after the First World War and the Russian Revolution, about ten young pioneers from Ternivka immigrated to Palestine and among them was the youngest son of the Rabbi of Ternivka. After them, more families immigrated to Palestine after traversing dangerous roads and borders. These are the families: Balagur, Blatnoy, Berdichevsky, Berman–Shita, Gutmacher, Gorodetsky, Drukarsky, Wortman (including the author), Troyanovsky, M. Taft, Yanovsky, Moldavsky, Marchovsky, Ne'eman, Polivoy, Porer, Paradny, Kushnir, Kravetz , Krotokop and last but not least, Rabbi Aharon Kruglyak who we mentioned in the chapter on Education.

Tens of thousands of refugees from Ukraine streamed to the district of Bessarabia which was then under the rule of Romania. About four hundred refugee families organized themselves as the “Bershad Cooperative.” The organizers of this “Cooperative” were from Bershad, a large shtetl about 30 miles from Ternivka. Many families from other shtetls joined them. The plan of this “Cooperative” was to establish a settlement in Palestine that was both agricultural and industrial but unfortunately this plan never came to fruition. Once in Palestine, the members of the “Bershad Cooperative” dispersed, each one going his own way and managing the best he could.

Among the immigrants and pioneers from Ternivka were the great grandchildren of Rabbi Ya'akov Wortman who immigrated to the Holy Land in 1865. I will mention a few of them: Dr. Moshe Wortman, a jurist and the author of the book “Creation Theory (Cosmogony) in Jewish Tradition” published by the Devir Publishing House in 1932; the educator and children's writer A. Gad; Aharon Nir (Polivoy) (1900–1955) of blessed memory, a graduate of the first class of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and for many years the literary secretary to the poet Chaim Nachman Bialik (1873–1934) and the author of the books “Bein Hase'ipim”, a book on philosophy published by the Devir Publishing House in 1954 and an important and comprehensive monographical book on the romanticist researcher Shne'ur Zaks (1816–1892).

Aharon Nir also contributed to a number of literary periodicals that were published in Israel. He died in Tel Aviv in midlife in 1955; Yisra'el Amitay, long life to him, a journalist while he served as an army medic in the Israel Defense Forces during the War of Independence, published, together with another expert, a book on the practice of being a medic. By the way, Aharon Wortman, a retired Tel Aviv police officer, is also one of Rabbi Ya'akov Wortman's great grandsons. He wrote a book about the various personality types that he encountered as a criminal investigator for the police.


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33. A Wonderful Meeting

Before the First World War an elderly Jew called Itzi–Shaya “Chasid” (the Chasidic Jew) immigrated to the Holy Land from Ternivka. He immigrated to the Holy Land in order to conclude his life in Torah study and prayer and in order to be buried in the holy soil. A few years after he immigrated to the Holy Land, a semi–educated Ukrainian (he could read a newspaper) by the name of Urady went to the Holy Land as a pilgrim. He was a decent and honest man. The Church had organized and conveyed the pilgrims to the Holy Land at the Church's expense.

Once when Urady and his group of pilgrims were walking in the streets of Jerusalem he suddenly heard someone calling: “Urady, Urady!” He was astonished and alarmed to hear a voice calling his name. He though it must be the voice of God because no one in the Holy Land and in Jerusalem knew his name outside of the group of pilgrims with whom he was presently walking! And while he was still filled with wonder, he saw a Jewish man whose “Kapota” (long coat) was flapping in the wind and who had his prayer shawl and his phylacteries in his hand running toward him in great joy. It was Itzi–Shaya “Chasid” coming from his morning prayers in the synagogue.

Urady and Itzi knew each other well in Ternivka. Out of great joy at the unexpected encounter they hugged and kissed much to the astonishment of the pilgrims and of the passersby. Afterwards, the “Chasid” invited Urady to his apartment, honored him with “delicacies fit for a king” and received from him recent and detailed regards from Ternivka and its people. Thus, “Jacob and Esau” met in Jerusalem, the city of holiness and peace, where each of them had favored her with his presence for different religious reasons.


34. A Shared “Etrog”

During the First World War when Palestine was cut off from Russia, it was very difficult to acquire an “Etrog” (ceremonial citron fruit) for the Festival of Sukkot. The Ternivka Jewish community learned that the nearby Teplik Jewish community, a distance of about 15 miles, had miraculously acquired for an enormous sum, an “Etrog.” After much pleading, the Teplik Jewish community agreed to include the Ternivka Jewish community in the “Mitzva” (Torah commandment) concerning the “Etrog” and so the two communities were able to make the benediction on the “Etrog.”

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And how was this accomplished? Normally the “Etrog” was in Teplik. In the morning, all of the Jews who wanted to make the benediction on the “Etrog” would gather in the synagogue and they would take turns making the benediction. This ceremony lasted, of course, many hours. When they finished making the benediction on the “Etrog,” they would lock the “Etrog” in a box that had two keys, one in Teplik and one in Ternivka. This box was handed to a Ukrainian horseman and he would transport it to the Great Synagogue in Ternivka.

A large crowd would already be patiently waiting at the Great Synagogue in order to make the benediction on the “Etrog” that was being brought from Teplik. Even though it was already late, two or three o'clock in the afternoon, there were many who had not eaten without first making the benediction on the “Etrog.” This ceremony lasted a long time and the Ukrainian horseman would wait. When they finished making the benediction on the “Etrog,” they would again lock the “Etrog” in the box and give it to the Ukrainian who returned it on the same day to Teplik. This was repeated on each of the days of the Festival of Sukkot (7 days). A “Lulav” (ceremonial date palm frond) was not hard to acquire. One could get one in Russia and many people had a “Lulav” from previous years.


35. Yosyp (Yosef) of Berezivka

There were villages in the vicinity of Ternivka where Jewish families lived. There were villages in which a few Jewish families lived. There were villages in which two Jewish families and even one Jewish family lived. In the village of Berezivka near Ternivka, a distance of two or three miles, there lived a well–to–do Jewish man, a good hearted and hospitable person and he was called Yosyp both by the Jews and the Ukrainians. One day, his wife who was also good hearted and hospitable but not particularly bright was traveling by train to a city. Other Jews were traveling in the same train car and while conversing with one of them she told him incidentally the whole history of her family, its wealth and its importance.

After they parted each to his own way, this Jewish man wrote a humorous story entitled “Yosyp of Berezivka.” This Jewish man was none other than “Sholem Aleichem” (Shalom Rabinovitz, 1859–1916) himself! When Yosyp found out that “Sholem Aleichem” had written a “humorous story” about him and his family, he hurried to the publisher and he paid him and also “Sholem Aleichem” “goodly sums” so that they would remove the story from the book market. And so this story disappeared from the book market from that day on and only a few copies can perhaps still be found in a few isolated libraries.


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36. A Story about a “Shoychet”
(“Kosher” Slaughterer)

Once or twice a week, a traveling “Shoychet” from Ternivka would visit the above mentioned village Jews. He would slaughter some chickens or a scrawny cow for them. This “Shoychet,” Yeshayahu, was a great and pious scholar and he also knew Russian which was unusual for religious functionaries in the small shtetls. He was later appointed a financial officer with the Koifman brothers who managed large enterprises. He was a traveling “Shoychet” because he had no tenure on slaughtering in the shtetl. He would travel from village to village in his carriage and sometimes when it was muddy he would ride a horse with his “work tools” in his hand. Once, when he was on his way to a village, a robber attacked him and demanded money from him. The “Shoychet” Yeshayahu didn't panic. He pulled out his large “Chalaf” (butcher's knife) with which he would slaughter a cow and when the robber saw this, he fled for his life!


37. “Sirka” and “Gematria”

One can also get an understanding of the circumstances of the isolated village Jew from the following incident. In one of the villages, Tashlyk, that was located between the shtetls Ternivka and Teplik (about ten miles NW of Ternivka) there was a large and modern flour mill that belonged to the “Puritz” (landowner) of the village. A couple of Jewish grain merchants from these two shtetls (Ternivka and Teplik) leased this mill from the landowner. The manager of this mill, who was also one of the partners, was Gershom–Me'ir who was both religiously and secularly educated. Incidentally, he initially sent his two young sons, Yehoshu'a and Shraga, whom we have already mentioned, to study at the Lida, Lithuania (now Belarus) “Yeshiva” (seminary) but later he sent them to study in Palestine at the Jerusalem Seminar. After the First World War, he also immigrated with his wife and his daughter and her family to Palestine.

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Only one other Jew lived in this village of Tashlyk, an elderly man who was the warehouseman at the mill. And it happened that one Sabbath day, the family of Gershom–Me'ir was sitting down to the second meal of the Sabbath and when the chicken was served he found a “Sirka” (fatty membrane possibly covering a puncture wound). Fearing that the chicken was “Treif” (not “Kosher”), he wrapped up the chicken and immediately sent it with a Ukrainian horseman to the Rabbi in Ternivka, a distance of about ten miles.

The Ukrainian came to our house with the chicken since we were the Rabbi's neighbors and friends of Gershom–Me'ir. One of the children entered our neighbor the Rabbi's home with the chicken in his hands and after an examination the rabbi ruled that the chicken was “Kosher.” Now the question arose how to convey the Rabbi's ruling to the family in Tashlyk? Write a note? It was the Sabbath (writing is forbidden on the Sabbath). Put the word “Kosher” in the Ukrainian's mouth? The manager of the mill might suspect that the Ukrainian was purposely saying “Kosher” instead of “Treif” in order to please him (the concepts of “Kosher” and “Treif” were known to the Ukrainians who came in close contact with Jews).

Then it occurred to my father of blessed memory to convey the word “Kosher” to the Ukrainian in numbers and so the Ukrainian messenger was told to please convey to the manager of the mill that the “Rabbin” (Rabbi in Russian) said “pyatsot dvatsat” (five hundred and twenty in Russian) which is “Kosher” in “Gematria” (Numerology). The Ukrainian rehearsed this number a few times until he knew it by heart. When he returned to the village and conveyed the “code number” to the manager of the mill Gershom–Me'ir, he immediately interpreted the “code” and knew that the chicken was “Kosher” and he was able to conduct the Sabbath meal as required by Jewish Law.


38. My Father's Home

I would like to dedicate a few lines to the home of my father, Tzvi Wortman, as a prototype for the well–to–do and respected homes in the shtetl that embodied both “Torah” education and secular education. Both holy books and secular books could be found in our bookcase: “Gemara” (“Talmud”), “Yad Hachazaka” and “Moreh Nevuchim” (both by Maimonides) next to “A Wanderer on the Path of Life” by Peretz Smolenskin (1842–1885), the poems of Chaim Nachman Bialik (1873–1934) and a book in Russian by Tolstoy. The Hebrew newspaper “Hatzefira” that we received for many years (father, of blessed memory, like many other Jews, was among the admirers of its editor, Nachum Sokolow, 1859–1936) existed side by side with the Russian newspaper “Kievskaya Mysl” and before that ”Birzhevye Vedemosti” from St. Petersburg that were received in our home. We also received the Zionist–Russian weekly “Rassvet” (“Dawn”).

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For many years, we also received the thick Russian science journal “Vestnik Znanya” that would inform the educated classes in Russia on scientific matters. During the First World War, we received the Hebrew weekly “Ha'am” that was published in Moscow. It was the only Hebrew periodical that was published in Russia at that time. After the Revolution in 1917, “Ha'am” was published as a daily. When we were children, we received the Hebrew weekly for children “Haprachim” and the children's daily in vocalized Hebrew “Hachaver,” which appeared for about a year.

It is worth mentioning that in our home no book in Yiddish was to be found because it was “shameful” that the educated well–to–do would, God forbid, read a book in “Jargon,” like the tradesmen. It is true that there were a few Yiddish books in our home: “Tsena Ure'ena” (“Women's Bible”) and “Shevet Musar” and “Kav Hayashar” (books on Jewish ethics) and others read by my mother Chana, of blessed memory, an uneducated woman who could read and write Yiddish. But a modern Yiddish book? Not even worth mentioning!

My father who was a great admirer of the “Rambam” (Maimonides) would say that if the “Rambam” were alive today he would go to him on foot to the ends of the earth. Even though as a grain and flour merchant he was very busy, he would set aside time to study “Torah,” usually during the third watch of the night. At three or four o'clock in the morning, when everyone was sleeping, he would awaken and also waken me and study and teach me a page of “Gemara” (Talmud). It was also his custom every Sabbath morning before prayer to teach his sons “Torah” with “Or Hachayim” and other commentaries.

Father was pious and followed all of the commandments of the “Shulchan Aruch” (Code of Jewish Law) but he was not a religious fanatic. His sons, like all of the young men of the new generation, shaved and did not strictly follow all of the commandments and proscriptions but at home they kept the traditions. Even though my father was from a “Chasidic” home, he was never a “Chasid” and he never went to a “Rebbe” (Chasidic Rabbi) to give him a “Kvittel” (petitionary prayer). He would often give a donation of money to one of the “Rebbes,” a scholar from a Rabbinic family who would come to our shtetl. He would donate, but without a “Kvittel.”

By the way, this same “Rebbe” would send one of the children of his host to our house whenever he was staying in the shtetl and request to read the “Hatzefira” newspaper (a secular newspaper). This “Rebbe,” who I think was a descendant of Rabbi Zusya of Hanipoli (1718–1800), saw no contradiction between reading “Hatzefira” and receiving “Kvitlach” (plural of “Kvittel”). The truth is, that he was not satisfied with making a living in this manner and was more than once sorry that he had not chosen to take a “Rabbinic Chair” in one of the large cities. But, his followers did not permit him to do this.

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As mentioned in the chapter on “Library and Theater,” my father bought many books from “Central” (a Warsaw publishing house) and he especially liked to read about weighty matters like science and research and not the lighter “Belles Lettres” preferred by the younger folk. He tolerated “A Wanderer on the Path of Life” and similar works. And so, holy and secular books co–existed in peace together, without one interfering with the other even one bit.

My father Tzvi died in Uman in 5675 (1914/1915) at the age of 56 (lived ca. 1859–ca. 1915) and my mother Chana died in Tel Aviv in 5689 (1928/1929) at the age of 68 (lived ca. 1861–ca. 1929). May their memory be blessed.


39. The House of Yisra'el

A. A Righteous Person

“Thunder was created for the sole purpose of straightening the bend in a heart” (the Talmud).

Even though Yisra'el, Ben Tzion's son, was a righteous man like the righteous man described in the Book of Psalms (15:2–5): “He who walks with integrity, does what is righteous and speaks the truth in his heart. He who does not slander with his tongue, do evil to a friend, or bring disgrace upon his neighbor. He who despises the reprobate but who honors those that fear the Lord. He who does not lend money at interest…” whenever he heard thunder, he would become very frightened, as if the thunder had come “to straighten the bend in his heart.” Whenever there was thunder, he would hurry to find shelter from it until it passed. Most of the time, he would occupy himself with the study of Torah, with prayer and with the doing of good deeds. His store was mostly run by his wife (see the “Suffragette” below).

As an observer of the Sabbath, he did not leave his home on the Sabbath except to go to the “Kloyz” (small synagogue). But once, he had to go to the Jewish pharmacy to get some medication because of the illness of a member of his family. How astounded he was when he saw in the kitchen of the home of the pharmacist next to the pharmacy (the door happened to be open) a boiling kettle standing on the table.

Of course Yisra'el, Ben Tzion's son, observed the Biblical verse (Leviticus 19:17): “You must surely reprove your neighbor so that you do not incur sin because of him.” He addressed the pharmacist freely and sternly and asked him to explain the boiling kettle on the Sabbath in a Jewish home.

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The clever pharmacist answered him: “The boiling water is used for the preparation of medications necessary to save a human life.“ When Yisra'el, Ben Tzion's son, heard this, he calmed down and was very sorry that he had suspected an innocent person.

 

B. The “Suffragette”

Chaya the wife of Yisra'el, a clever and opinionated woman, who as mentioned above, mostly ran their dry goods store, was considered an expert on the subjects of prayer and religion in the women's section of the “Kloyz” where she prayed and they would bring any difficult questions to her. She was a descendant of the Talne line of “Rebbes” (Chasidic Rabbis) and she had within her a spark of the “Maiden of Ludmir” (Chana Rachel Verbermacher, 1805–1888). She would complain that the men appropriated to themselves all six hundred and thirteen of the commandments and left the women only a few “crumbs” of commandments.

In order to anger the egotistical men, she would keep several commandments that were only incumbent upon men. She would pray all three daily prayers every day and she would make almost all of the “one hundred and one benedictions” every day, etc. And that is how she retaliated against the men who appropriated to themselves all of the commandments and discriminated against the women, even claiming that a woman is exempt from the keeping of the commandments…!

 

C. The Jerusalemite

One of the sons of Yisra'el and Chaya whose name was Yitzchak, uprooted himself from the shtetl a few years before the First World War in order to avoid being drafted into the Tsar's army and immigrated to Palestine under an assumed name and with a forged passport. He was known here in Israel in different circles under this new surname. He settled in Jerusalem and was assimilated into the old moderate religious community.

Sometimes, he would come to Russia concerning the sale of “Etrogim” (ceremonial citron fruits for the Festival of Sukkot), etc. but he was afraid to come to Ternivka because of the local authorities. He would travel incognito to the nearby large city of Uman and his family members in the shtetl would secretly travel to him to Uman and they would meet with him there. And so, Yitzchak would often visit Russia under an assumed name. After the Second World War his brothers and his two married sisters joined him in Israel.

 

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