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[Page 39]

Public institutions

by S.P-R

Translated by Mira Eckhaus

Edited by Erica S. Goldman-Brodie

The People's Bank was founded in 1906. Its founder and manager was Reb Chaim Cohen. He was also the Starosta, the county officer and city officer. An active and engaging personality, a Torah follower, and involved with the people, with superior and exemplary moral quality.

During the First World War, the bank was destroyed. The Russians took the money and all the important metals for casting pods and bullets out of town. The heavy lamps, copper chandeliers and all other valuables were removed from the synagogue and the Beit Midrash.

In 1921, the bank was rebuilt by the “Yakafa” company. At the time, the “Tze'irei Zion” movement operated in the town. Its plan was to penetrate the public and economical institutions of towns. A dispute broke out over the bank, and in the end the young people took upon themselves their share in the management of the town's affairs including the bank.


Gemilut Hasadim (charity)

The tax burden of the Polish government and the lack of livelihood led to the opening of the Gemilut Hasadim in 1926 with the support of “Yakafa” company. Nearly 300 people received loans from it. The living spirit in those years in the public institutions and the one who made the connection with “Yakafa” was the pharmacist Sternin, who attended its conferences in Vilna.


Medical services

About 60-70 years ago, Avrahamel was the “omnipotent” physician in the town's medical and sanitary services. After his death, his profession passed to his son-in-law, Yosha the medic (Yasha der flesher). One of Yosha's sons is Monish Margolin who continued in the profession of medicine. He moved to the city of Vilna, where he started a family and eventually perished in the Holocaust.

The Jewish doctor and the medic treated the Jewish patients of the town and the patients from the surrounding areas - the farmers. Wagons adorned with colorful rugs would come to the alley of the doctor-medic, and he would take the medicine suitcase with him and travel from village to village to cure the sick. A certified midwife from the town, Rivka Kopels, had been in the profession for the past few years. In addition to the Jewish doctor, there was a governmental doctor in the town, usually from among the Gentiles. At the end of the town, next to the Gemina civil community, a public clinic was built. In the clinic there was a medic, and from time to time a doctor from the big city visited it.

In the years between the two world wars, a branch of the government health maintenance organization was founded in the town by the Polish medical services. Although the doctor in charge of diseases was the local doctor, in cases of infectious diseases or serious diseases, the doctor would send the patients to Vilna and sometimes, in exceptional cases, abroad. In the 1930s, about ten years before the Holocaust, the young Jewish physician Dr. Yaakov Friedman, the dentist Mrs. A. Pep and the medic Mr. Tubman worked regularly in the town.

The people of the town from all strata did not give up the medicines that had been customary in the town for generations. They would willingly send family members to “ discourage the evil eye” “apshprechen an ayin ara”, they would drive out the disease, or the evil spirit, by touching the forehead and a spit, and there were those who would sprinkle cooking salt around the four corners of the child's crib. A well-known and customary method in cases of serious illness and especially mental illness was to travel with the patient to the sooth sayer, “Zanakar” who usually lived in the village and belonged to the Tatar community.

There was no trace in the town for sewage, installation of canal system and all other sanitary arrangements. Near the synagogue and the Beit Midrash was a public toilet. The responsibility for cleanliness around the houses and in the streets was placed on the Noter, the “Strazhnik”. Of course, the bathhouse and Mikveh are also included in the sanitary institutions.


Bikur Cholim (Visiting patients), Hachnasat Orchim (hospitality), Linat Zedek (Hospice for the poor)

Poor patients would get quick help and medicines for free or at a discounted price. At the expense of “Bikur Cholim” they would send the needy to the big city.

There was a tradition of “Hachnasat Orchim” in the town where poor passers-by, booksellers, Maggidim (teachers) or Sofer Stam (Torah scribes) found a place to stay free of charge. Also in town was Linat Zedek society whose role was to stay with poor patient, “Malbish Arumim” (naked dressers) and “Hachnasat Kallah” (charity to provide a dowry for a bride).

The tax imposed on the people of the town for the purpose of providing their religious needs, was mainly on the meat (“carabka”), on yeast (for baking challah for Shabbat), and on Shabbat candles.

Institutions for Torah study

by K.P-R

Translated by Mira Eckhaus

Edited by Erica S. Goldman-Brodie


Poalim Society

Its members came mainly from the poor, who united for common causes. They had their own historical registry. Since public life was concentrated around the Beit Midrash, the “Poalim society” was also connected to the Beit Midrash. The “Shtiebel” of the Beit Midrash belonged to the “Society”, in which they prayed on Shabbat and on holidays. Between the Mincha and Ma'ariv prayers, the “Rabbi” would teach them a chapter in “Chayei Adam”

[Page 40]

and “Kitzur Shulchan Aruch”. Before the holidays, he would teach about the holidays. Prayer and study together, the parties at Simchat Torah, the elections of the Gabayim at the polls - the whole common cultural pattern of life brought its members closer one to the other in daily life, on happy days and during days of mourning. The “Poalim Society” continued to exist also when values had changed and through the world wars. In this “Society” one can find the nucleus of the parties in the town.

At the beginning of the century, Reb Feiva Ginzburg, “Feive der Ashmener”, served as the rabbi of “Poalim Society”. Apparently, he was one of the Lubavitch followers, who was assimilated among the common people of Lithuania, the “Litvakim”. He served as the Shochet (butcher) and Mohel in town. On holidays he would pass in front of the holy ark. As a wise Jew, he knew how to handle the common people and was full of joy of life even in his old age. At a certain time, he also taught Torah to the boys of the town.

His house was open to everyone. Among the pictures that adorned its walls were the Ba'al HaTanya and the Gaon Reb Eliyahu of Vilna, Deborah Esther the Righteous and the Minister Moshe Montefiore. When necessary, he would whisper to the “evil eye” or to “Shoshana.” More than once I walked with trembling and fear, without saying hello to acquaintances I met on my way, with thick blue paper (from the tops of the sugar), for the purpose of this spell. Later, Reb Avraham Aziransky, the Gabay of the synagogue, also studied the doctrine of the spell. “Poalim Society” liked their rabbi and adored him. In Yamim Noraim (the Days of Awe) he would pass in front of the holy ark in the great Beit Midrash. In those days the members of the “Society” would pray in the Beit Midrash.

In “Poalim Society” it was customary for parents to enroll their children in the “Society” when they were young. The “Society” members were mostly artisans and tiny traders, who earned their living by working hard. “Poalim Society” were united among themselves and therefore, when there were election times for the community, the Gabayim in the synagogues or any other institution, they had their own candidates, who in fact excelled in morality and integrity. All the strata of the public have placed their trust in them. In the last years before the Holocaust, when the community was abolished and replaced by “Gabayim Ratan”, most of them were candidates of the aforementioned “Society”, as they were called the representatives of the “Harapashnikes” (“the workers”). When entering the Beit Midrash involved devotion, the member of “Poalim Society” were the guards of the Beit Midrash on Shabbat and weekdays. They established their own Minyan for prayer all year round. Even in Yamim Noraim (the Days of Awe) they would come there to read the Torah. Between Mincha and Maariv, on Saturdays after prayer, “Chayei Adam” and “Ein Ya'akov” were studied. Before the Mincha prayer, they would study the Parshat Ha'Shavua (weekly Parasha) and “Pirkei Avot”. After the death of Reb Feiva, they did not have a regular Magid-Shiur (teacher) for several years until the rabbi's son-in-law, Rabbi Chaim Berger, began to teach the Shiur regularly. In the “Society” register, they found that it was written that when the father, Reb Reuven, was an 8-year-old boy, his grandfather registered him as a member of the Society “Chayei Adam”. There was a reason that the connection between the members was very close. (See above). In the last year of the town's existence, in 1941, when the Soviets entered, the Jews of “Chayei Adam”, who came from the working class, were the backbone of Judaism and religion in the town. With pride and with a determined decision, they guarded the last remnant, the Beit Midrash, and the Society“Chayei Adam”.Until their last day, they did not stop learning their regular doctrine in “Chayei Adam”. The last Gabayim of the synagogues, on the verge of cessation, were: Reb Reuven Farber, Reb Eliezer Levin, Reb Yechiel Kagnovitz and Reb Chaim Kravitz, may God avenge them.


“Ein Ya'akov”Society

The northern table in the Beit Midrash was in the possession of the “Ein Yaakov” society. When the late Reb Mendel stopped teaching due to his weakness, Reb Chaim Zilin, the Shamash, succeeded him. Every day, between Mincha and Ma'ariv, he would teach “Kitzur Shulchan Aruch” and “Ein Ya'akov”. On the eve of the holidays, he would teach current affairs. In the month of Elul, he would even translate a chapter in the “Mesilat Yesharim” into Yiddish. And when his disciple Reb Shmuel Zvi HaCohen Mishlewitz (Aishishker schneider), who was his student for several years, studied and progressed and managed to understand a Gomorrah page himself, suddenly left the “Ein Ya'akov”society and went to study with the Shas society, Reb Chaim David gathered his last strength and called him to order, because it is not possible to give up easily a decent student of “Ein Ya'akov” society. Meanwhile, this created a commotion in the town. Two “parties” arose and sided for the battle along with the litigants. Reb Shmuel Zvi won. However, the tailor from Eishyshok remembered Reb Chaim David's kindness and grace in the past, and when his lesson in “Ein Ya'akov” took place at a different time than the Shiur in Shas society, he would continue to come and hear Reb Chaim David the Shamash's lesson.

The membership in the above societies gave each of its members its status in the town and in society, in general.


Shas Society

Not everyone could be among its members, it was necessary for the candidate to understand a page of Gomorrah. For a considerable period of time, the participant in the study was considered a candidate for Shas society, and it was necessary to spend a certain amount of time in the lessons, as stated in the society's regulations. The society members were about seven Minyanim (70 people). The lesson took place every day between Mincha and Ma'ariv. On Saturdays and holidays, several Minyanim would gather around the table to study together. The members were from all strata of the people. The preparations for the graduation of the Shas studies started long time ahead and

[Page 41]

all the members of the town would participate in this Simchat Mitzvah. The Magid Shiur (teacher) was Rabbi Damata.


“Daf Yomi” (Daily Page)

At the time of the late Rabbi Ya'akov, his son-in-law Reb Yosef Levin was the Magid Shiur (teacher) in the Shas society. When Reb Yosef traveled for a long time to be the Magid at the Smurgun Yeshiva, Rabbi Damata began to teach the lesson. Upon his return to the town, Rabbi Yosef Levin, may God avenge him, founded a second Shas society, and began to study according to the order of the Daf Yomi. The students of Daf Yomi were mainly from the young students of the Yeshivas. He gave the lesson after Ma'ariv prayer at the northern table in the Beit Midrash.


Mishnayot Society

Mishnayot society had more members than the Shas society. On Saturday morning the rabbi would teach the lesson after the second Minyan. Due to the overcrowding at the table, many were standing and studying in a circle around the table. I should praise Reb Chaim Cohen, who after the death of the late Reb Shimon Bansky, was one of the only ones who kept the lessons, although he was very much preoccupied in his business.


“Beit Yosef” Yeshiva

Reb Feiva the butcher was privileged that his daughter married a wise student from the “Beit Yosef” Yeshiva, Rabbi Yitzchak Lizrovsky, may God avenge him, who was one of the most influential in the “Beit Yosef” Yeshivas (in Smiatytch) in the style of Navaridok's Mussarniks. He founded a small Yeshiva and a Kibbutz in the Beit Midrash in the town. For the purpose of founding the Yeshiva, he brought in several dozen young men from the “Beit Yosef” Yeshivas. Local students and students from the surrounding area were accepted to the small Yeshiva. Rabbi Yitzchak was the principal and the Magid Shiur. Rabbi Menachem Band from Vilna and others also taught the Shiur.

The kitchen was arranged at Duba Eisenberg. Dakashnia and Liepine, the nearby Jewish villages, were the suppliers of fruit and vegetables. And a year later, when the kitchen could not last, the town arranged “days” for the Yeshiva students. The Kibbutz did not last more than a year, but the small yeshiva existed for several years. Among its students at the time was also Chaim Grada from Vilna, the famous writer, who is now staying in America.


The school in town

There was no house in the town whose children were not among the students of the school. Courses were also arranged for the older ones. The whole town was full with aspiration to study Torah. It is worth noting that even in the centers in Vilna, the activists of “Tarbut” and “Horev” knew about the necessity of sending to Olkeniki only excellent teachers, conservatives, among the best teachers available. The teachers who attended the school, that was founded after the First World War and was supervised by “Tarbut”, were all conservatives (former Yeshiva students), and when the parents' committee decided to move the school to “Horev” Center, the school and the teachers remained in the same composition. It should be noted that in 1923, while the school was affiliated with “Tarbut”, about two Minyanim (twenty) of the school's graduates went to study at Yeshivas of “Beit Yosef” in Vilna and Radun.

Community elections in 1921

Translated by Mira Eckhaus

Edited by Erica S. Goldman-Brodie


The war on the community

Already in 1920, a war broke out in the town over the “occupation” of the community by “Tze'irei Zion”.The older generation did not accept the youth revolt, but had to agree with the democratic elections.

Beginning in1920, representatives of “Tze'irei Zion” took part in the community and later also representatives from the advanced Zionists. The community took care of the cultural, religious and social institutions.


Changes in the town

At the end of the third decade of the 20th century, there was a differentiation in the youth life of the town. Organizations of “Beitar”, “Wilbig” were established and some of the youth turned to the extreme left. At that time, dozens of newspapers were received from Vilna and Warsaw; the whole town was occupied with daily newspaper reading and knew what was going on in Israel and around the world. Special reporters (Laser Warman, Binyamin Farber) would occasionally send out press releases about what is happening in this vibrant town. Awareness became heightened with the establishment of regular bus contact with the city of Vilna, when the road on the name of Pilsudski was paved near the town (See “stories of the cultural pattern” section).

The number of young people from the town who went to study in Vilna increased, but the decrees of the Polish government, the rise of anti-semitism and the bad atmosphere coming from the west, shadowed over the town's life and prepared the groundwork for the Great Holocaust.

In the years 1920-1930, with increasing economic pressure on the townspeople, families and individuals continued to emigrate to the United States, Mexico, Brazil and Argentina. They did not establish special colonies there, although the people originally from Olkeniki had developed unions in the big cities . The older generation that came overseas in the early twentieth century gave way to the younger generation that was born in America, that no longer had any connection with the origin city of their parents and elders. [Page 42]


Minutes of the 1921 Community Council Elections)

Yosef Karpowitz, Shlomo Farber, Eliyahu Korkodiansky
(member of the community committee)
Yitzhak Bornstein
(member of the community committee)


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