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[Page 52]

Chapters of the way of life of the previous generation

The rabbi was fired because of the fat in the pie – “kugel” in Yiddish
(according to “Ha–Shahar” of 5633 – 1873)

S.P-R

Translated by Sara Mages

About ninety years ago, in the year 5631, lived in the town, among the yeshiva students who studied at the “kollel,” Avraham Zuckerman of Oshmene [Ashmyany]. He married a woman from Olkeniki and moved from the town to Kovno. Apparently, Zuckerman belonged to a group of maskilim in the town, because, from Kovno he sent to Vienna in Austria, to the editor of “Ha–Shahar” [The Dawn], Peretz Smolenskin, an article named “Sacrifices to the dead.” The article was written in a very lofty language, and its content is the dispute that broke out in the town between two “sides.” One of the residents' sides founded a “Chevra Kadisha” [Burial Society] for themselves, in addition to the existing society. The town was in turmoil for a long time and split into two sides. At the same time, the town's rabbi was HaRav, R' Aba Yosef, son of R' Ozer HaCohen Trivsh, brother of R' Hillel David HaCohen Trivsh of Wilki, the editor of the literary collection “Hapisga.” The family tree of the two brothers reached Rashi, whose city of residence was Troyes (Trivsh). The rabbi, R' Aba Yosef, was a Torah scholar and a God–fearing man, and, with that, he was meticulous, well–versed, and virtuous. He was dragged to a dispute between the assertive – the ignorant in town, and the scholars, because of the fat in the pie – “kugel” in Yiddish, or, in the language of the correspondent, “because of the round food eaten for dessert.”

The correspondent in “Ha–Shahar” wrote anonymously the name of the town. He called it “Nakik Avil,” the combination of the letters of Olkeniki [in Hebrew]. He called the assertive, and the homeowners involved in the matter, in borrowed names: Elnatan the scribe and public trustee, Katan the sharp scholar, and Zarmi the drunk, son of Yosef the redhead.

These are the community dignitaries who were among the opponents of the rabbi. Zechri the tyrant was one of the rabbi's in–laws.

When the article appeared in the newspaper “Ha–Shahar,” and later, when the newspaper “Ha–Shahar” arrived in the town in four copies, the people concerned were insulted and shocked because they knew to whom the words were aimed at. The newspaper was read and explained in every home “like the Book of Esther.”

Sometime later, in the year 5634, the same Zuckerman described in “Ha–Shahar” the continuation of the dispute under the name “Quarrelsome feasting.”

In this article he describes the impression his article left in the town. He adds, that his words are correct and the editor's brother, Yehudah Leib Smolenskin, who was staying at his home in Olkeniki, knows the truth of his words and their correct description, and what happened began this way:

There were many societies in town. Every Sabbath, of the Sabbaths the year, was intended for a mitzvah meal of a different society. On the 15th of Kislev, according to tradition, a mitzvah meal was held for “Chevra Kadisha,” and the best was served at this meal. Many of the townspeople envied the assertive, that many of whom were ignorant, and gossiped about their activities. Men of action were found and they established a rival “Chevra Kadisha.” Before the 15th of Kislev the sides reconciled, under the influence of the rabbi and his faction, and decided to hold the mitzvah meal together with those who had recently joined the society. During the preparations for the meal it became known that there was not enough fat for the delicacies, especially for the “kugel” which was fried in fat. They immediately sent a cart owner to Vilna, about fifty kilometers from the town, and he brought the fat. At the time of the meal, as the participants enjoyed themselves, someone remarked that the carter was in such a hurry, and there is doubt as to whether they had been able to salt the fat in Vilna, and unsalted fat is not kosher for eating. The carter was not a member of the congregation and did not participate in the meal. He was already sleeping and they could not rescue anything out of his mouth.

Some of the “uneducated” in the party were angry at the scholars, who raised the question of the fat, because they suspected that they were looking for an excuse, and wanted to deprive them of the delicacies of the meal. The rabbi, R' Aba Yosef, who took part in the meal, ruled that the fat was kosher. He sliced a portion of the “kugel” and ate it. The next day it became known from the carter that, indeed, the fat wasn't salted in Vilna.

The rabbi's opponents took advantage of the matter. They announced in public that the rabbi himself ate non–kosher food and fed the non–kosher food to the diners. A quarrel flared up in town, as A. Zuckerman describes it: “and the whole town was angry and said: the members of the society ate non–kosher food and the rabbi at their lead. The anger burnt in the spirit of the townspeople, who were not considered members of society, like a fire of steel burning in cut up thorns”…

The “side,” which opposed the rabbi, brought a man who once studied in a yeshiva in town and was actually engaged in teaching, and crowned him a second rabbi.

The conflict reached the point where one of the rabbi's opponents received kiddushin for his daughter from the rival rabbi. The rabbi, R' Aba Yosef, invalidated the kiddushin, and re–blessed the young couple.

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The town's elders of a generation ago, who still lived under the shocking impression of those days, told, that one of the rabbi's opponents who ran to the rabbi in Beit HaMidrash to slap his cheek, fell and broke his leg. Others recounted, that one of the rabbi's opponents and enemy, removed the Jews from Beit HaMidrash as the rabbi was about to lead the prayers on the day of his “yahrzeit,” saying, the one who feeds non–kosher food is not permitted to pray with us in the same minyan. The elders added, with a shudder and sigh, that all the family members of this man, who insulted the rabbi and made his life miserable, died and he remained alone. They saw it as punishment from Heaven for their misdeeds against the rabbi.

The dispute broke out, crossed the town's boundaries, and moved to the courts and the authority because of the slanders and plots of the sides. The quarrel, and the controversy, increased with the imprisonment of one of the rabbi's opponents on the charge that he had stolen from one of the supporters of the rabbi, R' Aba Yosef.

Also the rabbis of Lita, and the Geonim [geniuses] of the generation, were included in this dispute, and the matter reach R' Yitzchak Elchanan the Gaon of Kovno. The Gaon ruled that the fat was kosher for eating. The author of the article in “Ha–Shahar” tells, that the rabbi, R' Aba Yosef, preached at Beit HaMidrash in Kovno in the presence of rabbis, and his words were accepted with willingness and understanding. Even this ruling was not sufficient until R' Aba brought the verdict from all the Geonim of the generation, and placed it on a table in the synagogue so that the community would see and judge.

Apparently, the rabbi's opponents saw that they exaggerated beyond the reasonable, made peace with him and asked for his forgiveness.

The rabbi, who was tired of the controversy, gave up the position of rabbinate in the town and left it. He spent the rest of his life at the shoemakers' “Rimarskekloiz , teaching and studying. He died in a strange incident. On one of the Sabbaths he sat and studied. With the movements of his body, as he was studying, he dropped a burning kerosene lamp on the Gemara. After this incident he fell ill, was confined to his bed and never got up.

 

A wedding in the cemetery

It was in the days when the plague raged in the cities of Lita and its towns. Death reaped right and left, and there was no house where there was no dead. All hope was lost, and the townspeople, and their spokesmen on all sides, have done everything to stop the dance of death. For a whole day they fasted and said Psalms, blew shofars by burning black candles, “fell” into the Holy Ark, measured the graves, and the plague has not stopped killing people.

The “well informed” decided to perform a “real action” to stop the plague, what did they do?

This is how the correspondent, our acquaintance, Avraham Zuckerman, describes the act in “Ha–Shahar” of 5634 – 1874:

“When the bad disease prevailed in that town, they not only held a wedding at the cemetery for a lame guy and a deaf girl with a hump, with kleizmer, feast and joy, the leaders, and elders, of “Chevra Kadisha” buried a slaughtered chicken in the cemetery and the elders of the society, three in number, slept at night on the burial site, roasted the gizzard and ate it.

The rabbi did not object so that he would not be suspected, God forbid, of being a heretic, but the plague did not do so, it showed everyone that it was a complete skeptic and did not believe in such virtues and remedies, and continued to kill many.”

This is how they fought the plague in Olkeniki ninety years ago.

 

In recent generations
From the days of self–defense
(from childhood memories)

It was on somber and sad days, in the days of fears of 1905. At that time we lived in an isolated house in the forest, in the abandoned factory. The forest terrorized our house and its inhabitants. In the nearby town, and neighboring villages, it was secretly reported that groups of bandits, called “anarchists,” wandering in the forests, attacking peaceful settlements, taking their property and dividing it. In those days the orders were changed in our home, we did not speak aloud and did not go for a walk in the forest. In the evenings we sat silently next to mother, without a sound or a flicker of an eyelid. Father worked in the factory in the nearby town and walked back home late in the evening.

One Sabbath, young people and adults from the nearby town, gathered in our “summer” house. They entered, one by one, through the faded fence and quietly sat in the spacious hall. My father went to the stove, climbed on a bench in front of the assembled, and took out various weapons from a hidden door in the chimney. The weapons passed from hand to hand, everyone tried to quickly open the bolt, pull the trigger and do all the correct movements. There were large and small weapons, shiny and dark, and also wooden handles with springs and an iron block at their ends.

Every night, before we went to bed, father took down the shotgun that hung in the bedroom. He went to the window, opened the hatch, inserted the tip of the barrel into it, pulled the trigger and fired into the open space. This shot was meant to inform the villagers that he had a firearm in his hands. When we undressed and went to sleep, father put by the entrance door, not in front of us, an ax that mother used in the kitchen for splitting wood for heating.


[Page 54]

Hadarim” in the town

Shlomo Karpowich

Translated by Sara Mages

The heder of R' Feive the slaughterer

I remember how my father z”l gathered the children around him and told them about his native village. We, the children, were enchanted by every story, until the landscape of the village was engraved in our imagination. When I visited the village before I immigrated to Israel, I saw that the village was built exactly as I described it in my imagination.

I hope that our children will read the Olkeniki book and it will be engraved in their memory and imagination, the way our parents' stories were etched in our memory. Therefore, this book will be an eternal flame in memory of our town, and in memory of our loved ones, may their memory blessed.

*

My impressions of the “Hadarim,” in which I spent the days of my childhood in our town, are etched in my memory to this day. My mother z”l accompanied me to the heder on the first day of school. My teacher, Ortzik Avner's that his private home served as a heder for teaching little boys, welcomed me warmly and invited me to sit at his table. The rest of the boys sat next to me on the floor and played various games. The rabbi opened before me a folded alphabet sheet. He said the letters of the alphabet aloud, and I repeated after him. Suddenly, a slight knock, a penny fell on the table from above. The rabbi explained to me that it was God's angel who brought the penny down for me, so that I would be a good student. I was horrified and very impressed by the angel and the penny… I studied at Ortzik Avner's heder for only one year, and did not have the time to learn to read properly. On that year, 5672 (1912), “heder Metukan” [reformed heder] was established in the town. I moved to study at this reformed heder, which was similar in its structure, and way of study, to an elementary school in our time. The studies in “heder Metukan” lasted from eight in the morning to two in the afternoon. In the heder we spent all hours of the day, from early morning to sunset in the summer, and until nine in the evening in the winter. A number of teachers, from the graduates of the courses in Grodno, taught various subjects. In the summer we left for a walk in the field and in the forest. In this way the teacher brought us closer to nature. To this day I remember the pleasant experiences we had in our studies and during our vacation. It's a shame that I only enjoyed this pleasure for a very short time because the town was not yet mature enough to maintain a modern school.

R' Avraham Mende, the zealous rabbi, took advantage of his position in Beit HaMidrash, and preached from the pulpit against “heder Metukan.” According to his words, it was a dangerous heder that would lead the children to assimilation. Many parents were impressed by his words and were ready to destroy the progressive school. R' Mende z”l took upon himself the role of educating Jewish children without any compensation, just to save the young generation from assimilation. He went from house to house and gathered all the boys whose parents agreed to give them to him. Most of the town's boys moved to R' Mende, and “heder Metukan” was closed. Eight years later, after the First World War, “Tarbut” school was opened and later “Chorev” school.

In the heder of R' Avraham Mende, the boys were educated according to the old method. We arrived at the rabbi's house early in the morning and left late at night. We were cut off from home, from nature and children's games. To this day I remember that we used to mention the period of our studies in “heder Metukan” with longings.

*

After two “periods” – a school year – with R' Mende, a rabbi was invited from the nearby town of Eišiškes, and he taught us under the supervision of the same R' Mende z”l.

From this heder I moved to study, with R' Feive the slaughterer, the Gemara and “Shever–Be” – Twenty Four [Scriptures] – Prophets and the Writings.

If it happened, that a hole was found in the lung of a slaughtered animal, and it was necessary to turn to the local rabbi with a “question,” we spent the whole day doing nothing.

The heder curriculum was as follows: four days a week we learned new material and on

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the fifth day we repeated what we had learned during the week. Thursday was test day, the Day of Judgment, and for that reason we studied a lot the day before because we were afraid of failure. R' Feive was a meticulous Jew and strict with every word. On Thursday, as mentioned, we got up early in the morning and came to the heder to study and repeat the Torah from the entire week. When the rabbi returned from the synagogue he took off his overcoat, turned to the cupboard, took out the “kanchik,” a stick with leather straps tied to it that he only used on Thursdays, sat at the head of the table and began his lesson.

The Rebbetzin, Tova z”l, was kindhearted. On Thursday she hurried to cook and clean the house. She used to come and sit next to R' Feive, and when a boy failed and R' Feive, her husband, was excited and lifted the straps on a boy, she stopped him and the poor boy was saved from the rabbi's strong arm. The boys were grateful and thought of her as a redeeming angel in times of trouble.

I studied in R' Feive's heder until the end of the First World War. In 1918, when “Tarbut” school was founded in our town, most of the town's teachers were concentrated in the school and additional modern teachers were added to them, and with that ended the period of the heder in our town.


R' Zelig the melamed and his heder

S.P-R

Translated by Sara Mages

More than fifty years have passed since my father wrapped me in a prayer shawl and carried me in his arms to the heder of R' Zelig the melamed [teacher]. The sound of his hoarse voice still echoes in my ears, though his sharp facial features are slightly blurred. His image is before my eyes as it was. Here is R. Zelig, short, slightly bent, with a long beard and thick sidelocks, and thick and tangled eyebrows above his deep eyes.

In addition to the teaching profession he also produced candles for the Sabbath and the holidays, and, for this reason, he was called in town, R' Zelig the candles maker. His “laboratory” was set up in the cellar under the room where we studied. Only a small barred window, without a windowpane, was fixed to the ceiling of the cellar that faced the courtyard. Through this window we peeked into the dark cellar. In the cellar were boilers, pots, and wicks arranged on special sticks for immersion in the hot fat.

In the days, when the rabbi heated the boiler and melted the fat, the pupils enjoyed an extra vacation and helped the Rebbetzin to remove the fat from the intestines of sheep that the butchers had brought to the corridor. Also, the arrangement of the large and small candles into packaged made us happy. There was a lot of work after the High Holidays when the rabbi began to prepare an inventory of Chanukah candles. Next to the room where we studied was a small kitchen. The kitchen walls were lined with “Hazman,” the newspapers that the rabbi's son, the maskil, Shmuel Izekov, read before his departure for Zhmerynka to teach Jewish children there.

Shmuel Izekov, who signed his name Shmuel A and B, published, decades ago, a Hebrew dictionary together with the teacher Pradkin. In the years before the war he was the principal of “Torat Emet” in Vilna.

We, the heder boys, knew all the secrets of the kitchen by the smells that filled it and the room next to it where we studied. Between the kitchen and the room was a dark corner, the place of the stove's “hot bench.” On winter evenings we gathered in this corner and told tales about demons and spirits, thieves and robbers, and all that the imagination had conjured up.

The sick Rebbetzin coughed all day and the rabbi, even though he had two professions, barely supported his family.

The rabbi strictly observed the walk to Beit HaMidrash. Therefore, during the short winter days we had about an hour between Mincha and Ma'ariv to sit together and tell stories. We had a great interest in the setup of the candles and the oil–lamp in the lanterns that lit our way when we returned home from the heder. The boys had lanterns of various sizes and shapes. The newest among them withstood a gust of wind. During spring and summer we spent many hours playing games. The common games were: buttons, pits, target shooting with a slingshot, and more.

For the most part the boys studied with R' Zelig two to three years, four to six “periods,” until they knew how to read and go through the weekly portion in the Chumash and Nevi'im Rishonim.

After three years the students finished the heder of R' Zelig, and entered the heder of Yisrael Yakov, or Ishia of Krynki, or R' Feive the slaughterer.


[Page 56]

Gas installation in the House of Study

(Told by Sh. P. on radio in Israel, in 1945
In the conferences series “From the oil candle to the electrical candle”)

Translated by Asher Szmulewicz

Edited by Erica S. Goldman-Brodie

It took thirty years from the discovery of gas fuel to come to our town. I remember, one day Reb Eliyahu announced from the synagogue pulpit, after the evening prayer, that next week a machinist will come and will install special lamps burning without wick, without oil lamp and the light will be like daylight, like sunlight.

The news spread in town and everybody especially the children waited for the man who will come from far away and will do this magic.

The man came with two boxes. On top of a box was written in the country's language: "Beware, fragile!" He came in the evening and all next day, he climbed on ladders and tables, installed and tied very thin pipes wrapped in a special coating like electric wire to the walls and to the ceiling of the house of study.

Next day, in the afternoon, there showed up five weird lamps, without oil receptacles and without glass. There was only a thick pipe and a faucet on its side, a few screws and two hooks. That's it.

The curiosity could not be quenched. Would the sunlight pop out from this pipe?

“Give him his boxes and let him go elsewhere.”

“We'll, keep the old oil lamps.”

That is how the old people mocked the machinist. There were people saying that all this is just an illusion, it is not worthwhile to let in such lamps in this holy place and there is no need of novelty.

The second evening passed and on the third day in the afternoon after the machinist came, on Thursday, he opened the box with the fragile inscription and took out a kind of small balloon, on top of it was a box with digits like a watch. It was called a manometer by the educated people. Taps and pipes were connected from the manometer. We had not seen them before. Amongst all these instruments there was a thick elastic pipe with one extremity, a metallic tube with a handle. It was called an air pump.

The curiosity could not be quenched. The kids climbed on the oven and on the bookcases and watched above the heads of the adults who crowded together all around. The sexton and his aide could not stop the crowd bursting inside to see the balloon.

After the afternoon prayer, shadows filled the house of study and the old people sat around the tables to learn Mishna and Ein Yaakov, the machinist got closer to the balloon with a can of fuel in his hand. The fuel smell was not pleasant It was called gasoline. With slow and fast moves, he poured the liquid into the balloon, connected the pump to the tap, pumped into air, looked at the manometer dial and turned off the tap. The sexton and his assistant stood close and watched. It took a few days to learn how to inflate and to kindle the system. The machinist moved away from the balloon, climbed on a ladder and hung the white network to one of the lamps: the covering. He turned on the small tap and the gas flowed inside the network. Swiftly he lit a match and ignited the gas. The network started to heat with reddish light, its color became red, blue and in some place very bright spots until all the network provided brilliant and sharp light, a striking blindness. After a while all the five lamps turned on and in the house of study there was a strange light, in the corners and on the ceiling, we discovered things that nobody had seen for generations.

Above the Holy Ark, a place that had been dark during the daylight, a Torah pointer made of wood carvings holding a palm and a citron, and on the other side another Torah pointer holding a shofar were suddenly found. Also were found paintings of beasts and fruits of the seven species on the top of the pulpit and the Holy Ark.

The next Shabbat, all the small children came to see the wonder light. There was a queue of women who looked inside the house of study through small windows from the women's aisle to see the precious light. The praised machinist stayed two weeks in town at the community's expense in order to teach the sexton and his assistant the igniting process. The town inhabitants had light and joy in the house of prayer.


[Page 57]

My Birthplace Olkeniki[1]

Translated by Jerrold Landau

I cannot forget my hometown, where I spent 20 years of my youth until I left it, exchanging it for the national homeland of the Land of Israel.

I cannot forget the experiences of childhood. I recall the streaming river that was the center of childhood play, and the bathing that was accompanied by the noise and shouts of children engaged in mischief. How great was the joy, and how many possibilities opened up for us children when the shipment of wood passed through the river on the way to large cities overseas. No shipment passed through without us having fun by jumping from log to log across the river, accompanied by dipping ourselves into the water.

The forest of the city - I also cannot forget. The thick, gigantic trees seemed to cover the face of the sky. There was no path upon which we did not tread. At first, the forest was a puzzle for us, but later we solved the puzzle and exposed it with all of its mystery and beauty. We spent many beautiful, pleasant hours there.

The convalescent home located in the forest was also a gathering point in our town. It took in many character types, including students, Yeshiva students, and merchants who preferred to leave the life of the noisy, single minded city for a period of time, and to relax in the bosom of the comforting nature of our town.

Behold, another idyllic picture comes before our eyes. The townsfolk are sitting on their porches in the light of the full moon, listening to the sounds of the singing of the Jewish youth bursting forth from the heart of the forest, and instilling pride in the hearts. There was indeed a strong basis for pride amongst the residents of the city.

I will make note of several main themes that typified the youth of Olkeniki.

The cultural level of the youth was higher than that of neighboring towns. Aside from the foreign languages spoken in the town, including Lithuanian, Russian, and Polish, most of the youth were fluent in Hebrew and were able to sing and tell stories in Hebrew. The large library of the city served as a center for reading and study of the Russian, Yiddish and Hebrew languages. The theater that was established through the efforts of the townsfolk was successful, even in the nearby towns. This also added to the cultural level.

The cultural life of the Hebrew youth was concentrated primarily in the Young Zion movement. That movement drew the spirit of the youth toward love of the Land of Israel, and instilled the desire to make aliya and settle in the Land.

Indeed, when the news arrived after the Balfour Declaration that aliya to the Land was permitted, we four friends - Yaakov Ozranski, Hillel Dan, Yehoshua Dan, and Avraham Menachemowicz - decided to be among the pioneers of the city, to leave our family, friends, relatives and home in order to actualize the pioneering vision. At that time, we were only 19 or 20 years old, without any profession, still dependent on our maternal home. However, we were of strong spirit in order to overcome all the many obstacles and impediments that stood in our path.

At that time, the war between Poland and Lithuania was in full force, and we had to leave our house without the accompaniment of “drums and dances”, and cross the border in secrecy; with our only possessions being the sack over our backs and the strong will in our hearts to leave Poland and arrive in Kovno, the capital of Lithuania, and from there to move onward to the Land of Israel.

I recall that day when I told my parents, “Behold, your son is among the first for Zion.” My mother of blessed memory asked a motherly question to her son, “Tell me, my son, are there not others older and stronger than you who should go first, and you can then follow after them?” Even though the pain of leaving behind that which is dearest to a person - I decided to not think about emotions, and to set out.

I have to thank my parents of blessed memory for giving their assent to the journey which I was undertaking, even though none of us knew if we would ever see each other again.

Thus did the period of my childhood and youth in my town Olkeniki conclude, and the new, difficult era of my life begin. This was a period of great obstacles, ???, and searching for new ways of life in a new homeland, the Land of Israel.

Now, when I bring to memory my far-off town, how greatly does my soul mourn that they did not merit to make aliya to the Land of Israel, and that the majority of them were murdered in cold blood by the filthy hands of the impure murderers, who still live among us and enjoy good.

Vengeance shouts out, “Is there one person who will hear my outcry?” All of them are lost, and are no longer…

Yaakov Agami - Ozranski

 

Translator's Footnote
  1. Modern name is Valkininkai, Lithuania Return


Aliya to Israel

by Zahava Menachemi-Tanel

Translated by Asher Szmulewicz

Edited by Erica S. Goldman-Brodie

I was born in Olkenik in 1913 to my parents Eliyahu and Chaya Menachemovitz. I lived in this town for only ten years. When I was eleven years old, I emigrated to Israel with my family. The town is still in front of my eyes with all its houses. I could recall the tenants of its houses by their names. I knew its famous forest surroundings, its river and all its pleasant surrounding landscape. I remember the Shabbat eves and the festivals. The features of the matzos baking in the spring, plucking the feathers, pickling cabbage in winter. Everything was done as teamwork. Also picking berries “yagades” and mushrooms, all these events are still vivid memories with all my experiences. You will never come back; you will stay forever in my heart.

Above all, I see in front of my eyes the day I moved to Israel with all my family on April 30th, 1924. On this day, we left the town forever. I never came back. Before our departure we sold the house and the furniture. I remember the teacher from the Catholic school who came to buy a bed and laid down in order to measure its length. The packaging of our stuff was done by neighbors and friends, who thought we are doing an act of virtue, and one day they will also pack their stuff in order to move to Israel. Lastly, I still remember the spring morning when most of the town inhabitants gathered around our house and all the shops were closed like during a festive day. First, they escorted us to Austri-Konig at the border of the town. Leading everyone was Rabbi (Reb) Yaakov Levin, z”l, and all the fellow congregants with whom my father, z”l, was praying together in the synagogue.

All my elder brother's friends joined the parade. Pupils from the school, who did not learn on that day, surrounded me in a circle, played music instruments as it used to be in a wedding. I remember the violinist Itze-Yaske and his sister, they played pioneer songs from Israel and the “Hatikvah”.

The entire procession went to the train, many people cried, there was also some people who pushed the cart full of our baggage a few steps to bring good luck. There were also Jews like Avraham-Mende who claimed that this Jew (my father) is crazy, and his madness will bring a disaster on all his family.

Reuven-Leibe-Leizer who stood in front and said loudly: “What does he think, Reb Eliyahu, that also over there the peasants will bring him butter, chicken and fruits? No, over there they are starving for bread, it is a land that eats up its inhabitants. My father, z”l, answered him: “ I am fed up to hear the word Jew (zhid). I am travelling back home”.

When all the crowd arrived at the edge of the town and we got on the cart to ride to the train, everybody stayed silent. A lot of people's eyes were dripping with tears. Then my great and favorite teacher, Mister Hershel Sanzhnik, z”l, kissed my forehead and said: “Congratulations, you won!” Those three words are always ringing in my ears, and my heart will remember them forever. Sometimes I thought: why did I merit more than my friends who remained in the diaspora and were murdered by the oppressors, may their names be erased? I attribute this merit to my parents; the Zionist spirit was beating in their hearts since forever. We were the first and almost the only one who emigrated to Israel. My parents sent my elder brother, Avraham, to Israel in 1921 with the first pioneers. He learned in Mikveh-Israel and was one of the founders of kibbutz Ein Harod and is still one of its members. My brother Noah was sent to Lithuania by my father to escape the army, and from there, he emigrated to Israel. My sister Batia and I travelled with my parents to Israel and here all our family reunited. I will never forgetr the steps my parents took to set our lives and our future in our land. May their memory be a blessing!


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Matzos' baking
(From Mina Bank-Goldberg)

by Sh. P.

Translated by Asher Szmulewicz

Edited by Erica S. Goldman-Brodie

The baking of matzos , between Purim and Passover, was an unforgettable experience for all the town inhabitants, the children and the adults. Throughout the year, people ate coarse black rye bread. The rye was ground in the surrounding flour mills, but for the matzos, white wheat flour, “kosher for Passover”, whose commercial sign was four zeros on the flour sacks was brought from far away . Similar flour was used to bake challot for Shabbat, but it was not the same as the matzos flour.

The matzos were baked in two or three places by contract “fardraten” (teams of poor workers to bake matzos) “fodoriad” in Russian.” They had to be fast enough so that in a few weeks they hand baked matzos for the whole town, that is why the work was done in an accelerated pace and with a lot of activity.

In all houses, people took a large wicker basket and a wooden box, preserved a long time ago, in order to store the matzos for the festival. Women washed special blankets and towels to sew bags for the matzos, for the matzo flour and matzos flakes “farfelech.” In regular years people were ordering a quantity of matzos according to the number of persons in the family from the “flour trader”. The ones that could not afford to buy matzos, were sure to receive their matzos portion through the “maot chitin” (wheat money) and no Jew in town will be left without matzos. In fact, the contractors had a kind of special tenure “chazaka” to bake matzos. In the last generation Sheime Fiston was a matzos baker, the son of Shimon with shabby hair. During the rest of the year, Sheime was making ovens and painting. The second “fardrat” was at the Bank family.

The workers were usually entire poor families hired for this seasonal work.

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Here is the description of the “fardrat from Mina Bank the “fardrat” owner in our town who lives in Israel with us:

“The first sign of Passover was the town's fool, Hershele Racha Sheptels. He was covered with worn clothes, wearing torn summer shoes with mud, getting in and out, jumping above the puddles and swamps, notifying with his stutter to all the town's visitors that the best place to bake matzos was the “fardrat” of Min-k-k-a Baan-k-k. His long pale face was full of indescribable joy because he was from now on the hero and an important personality in town. Who, if not him will chop wood, who will supply non-stop bucket full of water to all the “fardraten”? The hired seasonal workers also made all the preparation works. Chana the “setzer” (the one who flattens the matzos in the oven with a long wooden pole). The tallest of all the “fardrat” worker was Mendel the “troll”. Everybody knew his nickname, but nobody knew his surname. During the rest of year, he was a peddler travelling through villages, or he was making pottery and selling it to the peasants. He had a beeswax press on the river Martsanka bank “Voskovina”. After Purim, he went to the public bath, combed his sparse beard, wore his Shabbat clean clothes, and became the expert “setzer” (puts the matzos in the oven). His son Welfke (Zabik) was a delicate, smart boy. When he was thirteen years old, he was already helping in his father's business, and now he was the puncher “redler”. His two younger brothers worked on easier tasks. One of them measured and poured the flour and the second one divided the dough in portion, one portion per matza. He oversaw the “moyre” (measure in Russian), Mendel's two daughters stood at the edge of the table close to the divider “moyre” and were the first two “cutters” of the rollers “welgerkes”.

The kneading “kneterke” expert was always Nechama, the wife of Aber (Eber), the shoemaker or, in short, Nechama Ebers. During the year she was a peddler going from one peasant to the other and bartering all kind of haberdashery for food in order to feed her family. There was also Batia, the depressed widow, with her two daughters, one of them left her work as a seamstress to perform the seasonal work before Passover in order to earn more.

Tzipke, Flakse's daughter, or in short “Tzipke Flaske”, was a solid woman “beefy”, with her full face, she took the central place at the second side table. On one side, stood Simke the daughter of Khashia the shoemaker and two sisters Rachke and Etke Bores. One was skinny, almost barefoot, a pale full face, squinting with her loud speech, fast and unclear. On the other side stood her sister with a right chest, brunette, silent and sad. Both came from one of the poorest homes in town and lived across from Aber, the shoemaker. Their father Bore, nobody knew his name and surname, was a grave digger, used to clean chimneys and sometimes helped the sexton in the synagogue. Their mother, a poor and miserable woman, was supplying and applying suction cups (beinkes) and sometimes she was giving first aid to pregnant women.

The last in the circle of the rollers was Rache-Sheptel, the mother of the town's fool and the wife of Avramke, the simple. She was shapeless and a character in town, even in Shabbat and festivals. Her small and poor house was behind the Rabbi's house on the community land, her poor and humble clothes covered her skinny body and long hands.

The second puncher was Leizerke Bores. He was a kind of assistant clergy. On Chanukah, he supplied Chanukah candles to the houses, on Hoshanah Raba, he was the main Hoshanot supplier. On Passover eve, he was for years almost the only contractor to kosher the utensils for Passover. His promptness and awareness bestowed him a name in the “fardrat”.

All of these people were the worker team, and lived for one month in Minke's house, being noisy, chatting, singing cheerfully, since they won, this year, the right to roll and bake the matzos.

There were days when all men in town brought his container for flour, and for a fee, they got matzos. In the last years, the town inhabitants became more spoiled and did not want to stay one full day among the noise and the turmoil of the “fardrat”, bought prepared matzos from the matzo's contractors, since then the “fardrat” bosses became matzos sellers.

There were special rules to bake matzos. First, the matza shemura was baked in the oven, mehadrin of the mehadrin to be used on the Seder night, then the regular matza and at the end the egg matzos eaten only by children and babies during the festival, which tasted was much better than the regular matzos but not on its kosher level. The “fardrat” was a kind of institution and a public workshop under the supervision of the town Rabbi and the society “kli kodesh” (clergy).

The supervisors were Reb Zeev (see his description in another place) and Chaim David the sexton who officiated as a sexton of the house of study after the passing away of Reb Elihayu Moshe. The head of the supervision committee was the Rabbi, the ritual slaughterer (shochet) and the supervisors. When a messenger was announcing the coming of the kosher supervisors, a turmoil and a perplexity rose in the house. A fear fell upon the workers. The rollers hurried up to rub the rounded boards with sandpaper and to remove pieces of dough. They cleaned up from dough their shirts and their aprons, hiding their hair under their scarfs and shutting up. Only their fingers and eyes worked. The water pourer was especially afraid from the supervisors.

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Part of his job was to clean the basins, and the punishment failure to do his job was harsh, and could lead to a job change if he did not fulfill his position with trustworthiness. The flour measurer at this moment disappeared since he was full of chametz. The inspector went between the tables, looked at the utensils, the tables, the clothes, without looking up too much, but the rollers were red from heat and from the supervision. As soon as it was over all the shouting, chatters, winks, songs and the noise of the wheels and rollers filled up the house.

The regular noise in the house was different in the evening. Instead of the regular female workers came new ones in the “fardrat”. Young women from good families came to the “tlake”, voluntary team work to help the needy. Their hands were not used to work, the matzos split apart under the pressure of the rollers and their form was a bit weird. Also, the kneader and the puncher left and were replaced by Lalinke, the sage in town, who accompanied the women of the vacationers in town. Today he volunteered to punch the matzos, cut them to the benefit of the town poor people. The joy was filling the house, with feelings of satisfaction and excitement of those who played an important role in the support of the needy who could not buy matzos.

Evening at the “fardrat

Lamp “lightning” propagates light rays, and the oven propagates heat.


The Bus Appears in the Town
(Childhood memories)

by Y. Mn.

Translated by Mira Eckhaus

Edited by Erica S. Goldman-Brodie

The appearance of the bus, which replaced the wagon drivers in travel to Vilna, was one of the most important events in the town. For many years, the regular transportation connecting the town to Vilna was the wagon or the sled (winter wagon).

The bus arrived in town day after day, after departing from Orzeszkowa Square in Vilna, at 7 pm. At the same time, the market square in the town, which spread along its entire length, began to prepare for the festive arrival of the bus.

The drop-off station was set right in front of the church, where the children of the town used to gather after dinner. The fastest among us were running to the front, important position near the bridge. When the first child noticed the bus headlights from a distance, he would turn around and run to the market square, while all the others hurried after him and shouted: “Der Auto! Der Auto!”. All the town residents began to come out of all the side streets to the sound of these shouts, and the market square was filled with curious people and wanderers. Who will come today? “An uncle or an aunt from America”? Or maybe a bride for this guy or a groom for one of the girls? And what will Dad bring from the city? That's how they'd joke with each other.

.... The bus arrived safely and stopped at the regular place. The driver, satisfied with his safe arrival at the station, looked at us, the children, kindly. The driver was not cold-hearted and wanted to make the town children happy. So, after the last passenger left the bus, the bus got full load of children and he took them for a short ride on the bus. The garage was in the yard of the late Reb Yosef Zubiski, meaning a 100 meter ride of complete joy and an unforgotten experience. How miserable was the boy whose mother was fearful and did not allow him to join the ride, or the boy that did not manage to get a place inside the bus! How happy were the children who were lucky to join the ride. Even though the ride was very short, their happiness was unlimited…


The Fire in the Town;
Delay in Reading in Olkeniki

(Childhood memories)

by Sh.P.

Translated by Mira Eckhaus

Edited by Erica S. Goldman-Brodie

In our town too, the fire's date was most common and accepted date just as birthdays, weddings, institutional foundations and other days of remembrance of the townspeople. The fire in the town was a recurring phenomenon every summer, and sometimes even in winter, almost natural, like the spring floods and snow in winter. The earliest memories from my childhood are associated with my fear of fires. I remember the picture of a pile of packages of pillows and blankets tied with sheets lying outside the town houses on the green lot, near Chaim the Paretzier and the public bath house,

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near river Marchenka. I'm stuck inside the pile as a guard and as a survivor of the fire. Occasionally piles of clothes from other families are piled up. Young and older children in a hurry, scared and weeping between the piles. The last alarm sounds went silent. The church bells rang in heavy, continuous sad sounds in the air. The first shouts of surprise became silent. Everyone is immersed in saving their private property, the property of a relative and friend or public property. To the east, above “Stavo” and the cemetery, the sky is black, shrouded in gloom more than ever. Aside from the town, flames of fire and a red cloud, lit by sparks, rise to the sky. About half the sky glows like the Northern Lights.

The first heralds located the fire in the barn of Moshe P. and part of his house that was located at the back of the market, not far from the Christian church. My father is not with me, but my heart is with him. I know that he is a mechanic and an expert in putting out fires. It was told in town, that in the great fire on the street of the Gentiles, on 9 Av, he remained the only one who fought the fire in a dangerous place near a fiery wall. A fire truck stood nearby and sprayed cold water on the hot wall and on him. My father located the fire and did not allow it to spread to the homes of the Jews, whose roofs were made of dry shingles and covered with dry straw.

After that fire he got sick in pneumonia and only miraculously survived. Only the older sister S. came occasionally and brought a package of clothes or expensive utensils, and updated tidbits about what was happening. I looked in fear at the terrible and wonderful tongues of fire that ascended to heaven.

A cool breeze began to blow from the river to the burning houses. The concern grew because they thought the wind would direct the fire to the column of the small houses. It was known in town that during a fire, the wind blows in different directions from those in which it normally blows. When my sister came back and brought the last of the belongings, she said that Mum spent all her time next to the fire to encourage Dad . I returned home from the river in my uncle's wagon early in the morning. I do not remember how I entered the house, I probably fell asleep in my father's hands, when he picked me up from the wagon.

The next day was a day off from learning in the Heder. By noon the whole town became weary. In the evening, groups of people stood by the smoky remaining telling each other of the miracles and wonders they had witnessed.

 

Delay in Reading in Olkeniki

It was already known in town on Friday that Yankel, the hatter, would delay the reading of the Torah on Saturday. “Delay in reading” and all that it entails was the intervention of the “ba'alei batim”; the Rabbi or the “powerful people in the community”; in the affairs of the individual or the public. It was not a rare phenomenon in our town. “Delay in reading”; was a kind of permanent institution in itself. It can be compared to a high court of justice nowadays, or to governmental arbitration. Anyone who had a claim to/against the public, or to an individual, who did not respond to the Rabbi's judgment, or who could not sue the defendant in a government court for various reasons, demanded his justice in the synagogue, by “public opinion” pressure, a kind of “the public will be the judge” between the plaintiff and the defendant.

But this time it was known that Yankel the hatter did not come to claim for his insult and his private affair, but he came to arouse the whole public's opinion about the injustice done to the poor artisan class. This is how the story was:

At the meeting of the local school committee, it was decided to declare equality in the payment of tuition according to the grade and not according to the social status, as was customary hitherto. The town had Heders and also A.M.'s small Yeshiva in which anyone who wanted to study could do it for free. But the parents who tasted the taste of the “modern” school, with a blue ribbon on the hat, just like the hat of the fire department or of the postman, with breaks between classes, and a young teacher who had completed a training course for teachers in the big city, did not want in any way to give up the right to teach their sons and daughters in school. On the other hand, the wealthy of the town would willingly give up the poor ones to stay in the Yeshiva, lest they will abandon the Torah. The controversy took place secretly in the committee and the school secretariat, until it reached the synagogue and the Holy Ark, on the Saturday of Parashat Mishpatim.

Yankel had a large family. He made a living by making his own caps with a visor for the surrounding farmers. He was not the only expert on caps with a visor, he had two competitors who moved here from a neighboring town, and as a result harmed his livelihood and was in sorrow and anger.

Therefore, when the morning prayer was over and the prayer finished saying “makes peace in his high places, he will make peace on us” (Oseh shalom bimromav, hu y'aseh shalom aleinu), Yankel the hatter began walking, wrapped in his tallit, to the east, towards the steps of the Holy Ark. His face was red, his eyes were down and his hat was slightly down on his side. He was followed by two of his ardent supporters: B. the shoemaker and A. the tailor. B. the shoemaker limped slightly, and his whole figure evoked mercy mixed with laughter. His face was pale as lime, his eyes darted to every side and his whole appearance was terrifying. A. the tailor followed them upright, wrapped in a tattered tallit and mumbling something to himself.

All eyes turned to those walking towards the Holy Ark.

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Silence enveloped the synagogue. The Shamash, Reb Eliyahu Moshe, who meanwhile began selling the aliyahs, stuttered and coughed gently, because the buyers were in no hurry to buy and risk, when the “Torah - the goods”; is on the table, and who knows if they will even reach Torah reading today.

From the tall windows of the ladies' section, the dignified ladies with the glasses glanced at the crowd and the murmur down at the synagogue and the silence that suddenly prevailed. The little ones, that filled the “polish” and its surroundings with a shrilling voice, stopped their playing, suddenly became silent and on the tips of their toes slipped inside the synagogue, each to his corner, where his parents or relatives sat. The atmosphere was the same as in a hot day before the storm. Yankel did not state his claims out loud because everyone knew his claim in advance.

In some corners of the synagogue, they started gathering in groups, at first arguing in a whisper, and moving on to a conversation and a loud argument. Shortly, the synagogue became a quarrel house. The crowd stormed and moved around; the youth joined the adults.

The school children clung to their parents because the noise terrified them. A small portion of the debaters removed their prayer shawls. Some of the wealthy of the city, sitting on the eastern wall, turned towards the Western Wall and moved, as if all the noise was not in their honor, the honor of their wealth and the honor of the Torah that had been defiled. Few left the synagogue and went to their nearby houses to eat a little. Out of the commotion and embarrassment, the muffled and loud voice of L., the bicycle maker (Rader Macher), was heard:

“No one will get out of here! We will lock the Holy Ark and the Beit Midrash!”
The number of people leaving increased, and it seemed that there was no one to fight against anymore. The storm subsided a bit and, in some corners, people began to talk aloud not about the matter that delayed the reading, but about cases that happened, when the Rabbi and the congregation were locked in the synagogue until the Mincha prayer, and the women brought the food to the Beit Midrash. They also talked about cases of fainting when reading was delayed, about assaults and bullies, about lobbyists and courts and arbitrators and mediators.

The debaters seemed to have reached a dead end, from which there was no way out.

Then appeared the compromisers, among them the gentle-minded and pale-faced pharmacist, who announced loudly that the question under discussion would be brought on Saturday night for further discussion in the congregation committee, and with the influence of the wise Rabbi they would find a way to compensate the poor. The plaintiffs returned, mortified, to their sitting places, the children went outside, the dust rising in the air began to sink. The shamash's slap on the table was heard. The pleasant voice of the reader sounded this time with flaws. The aliyahs were handed over to their owners free of charge. Another Saturday was interrupted and served as the talk of the day for a very long time.


The Weddings of the Yeshiva Members;
The City is my Small Temple

(Childhood memories)

by K. P-R

Translated by Mira Eckhaus

Edited by Erica S. Goldman-Brodie

... The wedding of Nachmaleh Paive left an impression that will not be forgotten. The late Reb Paive was a public man well-liked by all, and it seems to me that everyone was his student, therefore the entire people of the town attended the wedding. In addition, dozens of young men came from the “Beit Yosef” Yeshiva. And all the Yeshiva members took part in the speeches, singing and chanting and even in dancing.

People were speaking about this wedding even many years later. The youth would sing the famous Nabardkai songs of the “border thieves”, ”My heart and my flesh”, ”for what, If I do not have me” – “If I am not for myself, what am I”, etc.

The second wedding of Bnei Yeshiva was in 5698, when Chaya, the daughter of Rabbi Waldeshan, married Rabbi Yaakov Zaldin (Mozirer), one of the best students of “Beit Yosef”; in Bialystok (“prisoners of holiness” This wedding was attended by many Bnei Torah, scholars, from all the Yeshivas in Lithuania, who settled in a summer camp in the town, among them were the owner of the “Hazon Ish”, of blessed memory, and the chairmen of the Radon, Mir and “Beit Yosef”

Yeshivas, as well as Rabbis from the surrounding areas. The wedding lasted a week, and every day new guests joined. All this time, the Bnei Torah showed their knowledge in the Torah and other areas and participated in conversations about ethics. The writer Chaim Grade commemorated this wedding in his writings (see below).

The last wedding of a Yeshiva student that was held in Olkeniki was the wedding of Rivka, the daughter of Rabbi Waldeshan, who married Rabbi Chaim Berger the 14th (Paretzier), one of the best students of “Beit Yosef” in Bialystok. The best Yeshiva students in Lithuania attended the wedding.

 

The City is my Small Temple

Look God and see to whom you have done so (Eikhah 2, 20)

In my mind I see my town as it was revealed to me then, in my childhood. On its land stood my father's house, where I felt parental love and childhood joy. But I will not be able to erase from my memory that Thursday, 1 Tammuz 5701, (26.6.41), when Kreinele Farber burst into my apartment in Vilna, at 4 Spitalna Street, and with eyes full of tears

[Page 63]

she cried: our town burned down, Olkeniki is gone, who knows if it will ever be rebuilt? It was like a prophecy that came out of her mouth. Since then, when I pass in various places in this valley of weeping, whenever I see a burned and destroyed Jewish house, I thank God and say: blessed is the fire that left no Jewish property to be inherited by haters and tormentors. If those who built the houses were uprooted and destroyed, then it is good that their destroyers will not benefit from the labor of those who were destroyed.

Nowadays, when I close my eyes and think about my old town, I see it in its entirety again. And for some reason my gaze encounters the open azure skies that stretch between the domes of the synagogue and the roof of the Beit Midrash, with no houses and trees in between. We, the youth, had a special attraction to this place. The center of the town was in that place next to the large stone that laid at the entrance to the synagogue and the paved floor.

The open field between the synagogue and the Beit Midrash was the central and ideal place for Children's games, because the Heders (school classrooms) were in the “shtiebel”; of the Beit Midrash and in the ladies' section of the synagogue. This place was, of course, also a center of joy and sorrow for all the people of the town. The groom and the bride would have been brought here, in most splendor, and a canopy accompanied by musical instruments and entertainers was arranged; all the people of the town would come here to participate in the joy of the mitzvah of creating a new family in Israel, and they would also come here to pay their last respects to the deceased, at his funeral.

 

The Synagogue

A lot has been written and said about the Olkeniki synagogue, and although we were used to being in it every Shabbat and Yom Tov, when we came to pray and study, every time a tourist came to look and see what was special about it, we would also marvel at its beauty. What admiration and reverence was in the hearts of the locals for this little temple! I remember its heavy iron-clad doors. A wide staircase was descending from the doorstep and led to the front of the temple, where one can fulfill the saying “from the depths I called your name”. Even about the lack of a mezuzah, legends about demons and spirits were woven, and those were told both among adults and children. The four large pillars around the bimah, the altar, looked as if the entire synagogue was leaning against them. The pillars and some of the walls were covered with inscriptions from 5609. Among the inscriptions were: “I believe”, ”Barech Shamehah”, ”Our Father, our King”, “Remember your mercy”, and prayers and hymns from the Days of Awe. A throne/chair of the prophet Eliyahu, which was used for circumcision, stood by the wall. There were also two tables full of sand for the memorial candles in the Days of Awe, and against a black background of the Western Wall it was written: “The place will comfort you” etc.

The pride of the town were objects on the Holy Ark and the stage that were made by an artist.

How many joys and rejoicings did the walls of the synagogues absorb on holidays and how many sighs and screams did the walls absorb in the days of trouble and sorrow! Who does not remember the joy that would surround the congregation at Simchat Torah, when the 40 Torah scrolls were taken out of the Holy Ark, and Rabbi Avraham Uziransky the 14th began his famous song in Yiddish “ver veis vas eins badiet” (who knows what one means?), and the audience answers: Ich veis, Ichveis”, (I know, I know). Then they knew and felt that they had truly reached the peak of Simchat Mitzvah, the joy of the commandment.

 

The Beit Midrash

The Beit Midrash left a completely different impression. Its exterior was gray. Its foundations were made of large stones and waves of stones as an addition to the foundation.

The Beit Midrash seemed as a solid and wide building on a firm base from the southeastern corner and the northeastern corner. The Beit Midrash was open all day. From dawn to late night, it was vibrant, full of learners and prayers. On Friday, at twilight time, people were running to the Beit Midrash to see whether Chaim David the Shamash already lit the candles, because that was the sign for the whole town. Also, on Saturday night, you could hear at the end of the town: ”In the Beit Midrash it is already lit” (“s'brent shoin feir”). Yes, it was a code!

I remember my first steps in the Beit Midrash, when Grandpa Beinush took me to the Beit Midrash on the night of Yom Kippur. He placed a chair next to the south wall and next to the table of the six sections of the Mishna with his “standhar” (lectern). He was dressed in his Kittel and surrounded by his grandchildren. It seems to me that, to this very day, I can feel the holiness that surrounded me and all those who were present in the Beit Midrash that day. Since then, I have seen the Beit Midrash in various situations: in the twilight in the weekdays, when dozens of Torah scholars, the Shas Society on the one hand, the “Ein Yaakov” Society and the “Chayei Adam” on the other, and next to them, the students of the Daf Yomi, daily study of a page of Talmud. The first days of the month of Elul were an unforgettable experience for the residents of the town, when the local Yeshiva members and the Bnei Torah from all the Yeshivas would come to the town for a summer camp.

The Beit Midrash would be filled with scholars, who would beat each other in Halacha, and until late at night the voice of the Torah would emanate from there. Still, the first impression of that Yom Kippur night in my childhood is the deepest and will remain etched in my memory forever.

The Beit Midrash encountered good times and bad times. I heard from the elder people that before the First World War, forty Yeshiva students (prushim) studied in the town. Among them were the two sons-in-law of the owner of the “Chafetz Chaim”, of blessed memory, the Ga'on Reb Aharon Rabinowitz, the presiding judge of Michaelichuk and the Ga'on Reb Hirsch Levinson, Director

[Page 64]

of Yeshiva “Chafetz Chaim” and other great well-known people came out of that Kollel.

Two Yeshiva students got married in the town, but died in their youth and left families, the Kleinstein and Shimonovich families. The Kollel's dispersal caused the talented people to leave town and go study in the big Yeshivas. Some of them later served as rabbis in communities in Russia. Rabbi Borman of Olkeniki was appointed as the rabbi of Kaluga. Rabbi Tuvia Rotenberg was appointed as the rabbi of Luna near Grodno and Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan served as rabbi in London and now serves as rabbi in Australia.

I also saw the Beit Midrash in its last days, when the Soviets occupied Lithuania in 1914.

In those days, walking to the Beit Midrash was really life-threatening. The young people stayed away from it and only secretly would they come in to “warm up” within the walls of the Beit Midrash.

I remember the story of Reb Eliyahu Zessler and the great fire in the town, in which the old Beit Midrash went up in flames. When the fire began to lick the walls of the nearby synagogue and the “polish” (corridor), all the people of the town left their houses and property, and everyone gathered around the synagogue, and extinguished the fire by throwing mud on the wall. Whereas in the last and final fire of the Beit Midrash and the synagogue together, when
they both stood in flames together with all the houses of the town, only two people had left their property and houses, stood in flames and ran to the houses of prayer to save at least the Torah scrolls from the fire. It was not for nothing that the saying was heard in the town: “So far we have saved the synagogue. That is why the synagogue saved us. And now, after the synagogue burned down, who will save us?”

In the minyan that took place at the Mark House (Fruma Baylas), the Torah scrolls that survived the fire were read thanks to the devotion of Rabbi Chaim Berger the 14th and old Reb Azriel Gans the 14th.

 

Val064.jpg
Rabbi Yaakov Levin accompanied by Rabbi Hillel Zeitlin
and the Ferbstein depot and the passengers on the ship, 1925

 

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