Translated by M. Porat zl
Edited by Mike Kalt
I shall praise our Melamdim (teachers) despite the fact that they did not spare from us the kantshik (whip). In fact they wanted our best. They did not want to let us follow the Shkotsim's ways and grow irresponsible, abandoning Torah. They desired to educate us as righteous Jews, wanted by God and by people. Moreover, the knowledge we acquired from them in childhood produced its good fruits.
Reb Moyshe Fayve the Melamed
The Melamed Reb Moyshe Fayve appears suddenly in my memory. In addition to his main profession, he used to earn a Grvinae (Russian dime) filling paper tubes with cut tobacco and selling the product to his regular clients.
Teaching the verse Being young and becoming old, I never saw a righteous abandoned and his offspring asking for donations (Book of Psalms 37, 14), the Rabbi would fill some tubes. Bad was the pupils' condition when the tube broke, or when his wife brought tobacco made by the Stambul or Messaksodiye company and the material was too dry and not suitable for filling tubes. Then the kantshik (whip) would work the all day until Blessed shall be the residents of your house, in other words, until the after noon Minkha prayers.
Reb Nahum Youdls the Melamed
Reb Nahum Youdls did not fill tobacco tubes, but he had another weakness. He would abstain from answering questions that referred to Almighty's behavior. A righteous God-loving and God-fearing Yeshiva-man died while we were learning the Book of Proverbs. I asked the Rabbi, If it is written in the Proverbs that 'God-fearing would add life as the years of Godless would shorten', than why should a young righteous Jew gave up his life, and not the old 'Pop' (pravoslavian priest) Pigulevski from Vilna Street?
The Rabbi rebuked me: You are a Sheyguets This was his answer.
Reb Nahum also used to lead prayers on the high Holidays. Sometimes during his lessons, we heard the I'm the poor from action melody. It was a sign that Reb Nahum was preparing himself for his Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur duties.
by Reuven Rogovin / Petach Tikva
Translated by M. Porat zl
Donated by Schelly Dardashti
Our Sages used to say, everything depends on luck. Even the Torah scroll inside the Temple needs luck (the Zohar page 134). Even a name needs some luck. What was the crime of a man whom his parents named after his grandfather Kalev? He was tortured and made fun of by many people. (Translator's comment: Kalev is a respected Biblical name. However, in Hebrew it is spelled the same as kelev = dog). During cold spells people used to joke, saying It is the Melamed's cold referring to a Russian expression that means even dogs feel the freezing temperature.
Rabbi Kalev was concerned about the future when his soul will go up to heaven and his body will be lowered to the grave. Visitors to the cemetery will see a line of tombstones: Here lies Rabbi Moshe, Here lies Rabbi Chaim, Here lies Rabbi Avraham, but Here lies Rabbi Kelev? People may think that it is the grave of a dog!
However, Rabbi Kalev faced much more serious troubles. During the First World War, a German airplane dropped a bomb over Valozhyn. The bomb fell on the pharmacy of Gluchovsky, between the houses of Lazer the Baker and Yochanan Rodkas. The explosion killed two soldiers and a horse, and one piece of shrapnel hit Kalev the Melamed. The very same man who praised G-D dozens of times each day and G-D did not protect him.
by Reuven Rogovin
Translated by M. Porat zl
Edited by Schelly Dardashti
Last but not least, was my teacher, Reb Avrom Gorellick. His cheder was a reformed cheder. Mr. Gorellick was an enlightened, educated teacher, who loved the Hebrew language.
He was the first educator in Volozhin and environs to introduce spoken Hebrew as a cheder academic learning requirement. On the wall, an announcement written in huge letters, admonished Speak Hebrew!
For the first time, Hebrew language became a required class, in the same category as mathematics, geography, history etc. It was a novelty, a basic change in curriculum.
As a teacher, he was very strict, demanding accomplishments believed unobtainable by his students. He gave me only two days to memorize Bialik's poem The Slaughter City. He also gave me only two days to memorize Bialik's Dead of the Desert. For The Hamatmid, he was more lenient and allowed three days, but only one day for Yalag's Between the Lion's teeth .
The cheder was located in Rohke di Almone's (the widow) apartment on Smorgon Street (Smorgoner Gass), near Chaim Der Shnayder's (the tailor) house. In its second year, the class relocated to Brovarna Street near Avrom Der Vapelnick's (clay maker) house.
Reb Chaim der Shnayder (the tailor) visited the class in the evenings and was happy when he heard all the Moyshelakh (little Moishes) and Shloymelakh (little Shloymehs) loudly speaking the Holy Language.
All of Reb Gorrelick's students, together with their loving admirer Reb Chaim der Shnayder were murdered in a single day, in the second Volozhin massacre on 10 May 1941. Only two students survived. One was Mihl Lea Dines, who emigrated to America and the writer of the above.
Swords were pulled out and bows tensed by wicked godless murderers
to defeat poor and pauper and to slaughter the right and honest (Book of Psalms 37:14)
by Mendl Volkovitz / Netanya
Translated by Meir Razy
Donated by Anita Frishman Gabbay
My father taught his pupils the Bible, Talmud and arithmetic. School days were thirteen hours long and that meant that school was run from darkness-to-darkness in winters. The classroom was lit by one small kerosene lantern.
My father loved his pupils as if they were his own children. When they excelled in their studies, he would give them candy that was delivered by angels. Those who were not bright received his special attention. His dedication earned him the community's recognition as a good man.
His students came from Volozhin, Mizeki, Zbazaza, Vishneva and Bakshty. Our house was near the little synagogue (Kloizel) on Vilna street and the Cheder was a room in our home. Its only piece of furniture was a long table with benches on each side.
My father's aspiration was that his pupils would grow up to be good men and good Torah scholars. They would pray with their whole heart and would stay away from modern trends. Although he charged very low fees, some of the parents could not pay for their children's education. However, my father never rejected a pupil for not paying. Therefore he had to live with very little and did not see much pleasure in his life.
He was a very modest man who stayed away from gossip and lies. He never cheated or spoke badly about any person.
He hated arrogance and people who were quick to promote themselves. He spent his time studying the Torah and following all its rules. At the end of each working day, he used to enter the synagogue and study Talmud which gave him a feeling of elation. On Friday nights he joined the other men in the synagogue, studying Talmud or that week's portion of the Torah. He was a Chazan and enjoyed reading aloud from the Torah. At these times, his happiness could be heard in his voice and his soul.
My father did not live for many years on this earth. Over time, his sickness diminished both his spirit and his physical condition. He died in Volozhin on July 31, 1932, only fifty years old.
By Binyamin Shafir (Shishko)
Translated by M. Porat zl
Edited by Eilat Gordin Levitan
Yakov Lifshits was born in Rakov on April 1907. His father had passed away, when Yakov was ten years old. Despite the family financial difficulties Yakovs' mother was able to send him to study in Yeshiva. Yakov was very proficient in the study of the Torah but preferred secular studies. He left the Yeshiva after studying there for a couple of years and continued his education at a Russian School in Rakov.
Yakov was admitted at the Vilna Technical School in 1925. Since childhood he had been attracted to Mathematics and the exact sciences. His interest in this field assisted his progress in the Technical High School. After 2 years of study in Vilna he passed into the teachers Seminary that was directed by Shmuel Tsharno. Yakov was nominated as head of the Rakov Tarbut School after graduating. After one year of work there, he left for Volozhin, where he was accepted as head of the town Tarbut Primary School (1931). Together with managing the school he taught Mathematics and physics, both of which subjects were taught in Hebrew.
Yakov was a devout, Brit Trumpeldor Beytar (a Zionist revisionist movement) member since his youth. Consistent in his opinions, Yakov ardently defended his revisionist points of view. In Volozhin he found a wide scope for his public activities, because the major part of the young and older people were at that time Jabotinski's supporters. (Zev Jabotinsky, born in Russia in 1880, passed away in the United States in 1940, established the Revisionist Zionists in 1925. He sponsored a more assertive and non-socialist approach to the rebuilding of the Jewish homeland.)
His opponents, as few as they were, made his public life quite difficult. But we don't need to recall the long forgotten rivalries, as the sagest of all said as you loved and hated, so also your jealousy passed .
Yakov managed the School with talent and skill. He began his work in Volozhin in a School with four grades, by the end during the 1938/39 school year he was managing a standard primary school for that time of seven grades.
For eight years Yakov stood as guard of the Hebrew education in Volozhin until the Soviets came on September1939. The new rulers took out his spirit. Yakov became deeply depressed.
The Soviet Inspector invited him for a meeting. He instructed him to change the teaching language from Hebrew to Yiddish as per the parents demand. They appointed a new manager, a Jewish woman from Russia. The education was strictly programmed by the communist regime.
During the Soviet rule (1939-1941) Yakov's spirit was burnt out. The Germans burnt out his soul and body.
Translator's note: Each Friday Yakov would gather all the students and read them chapters from Sholom Aleykhem in Yiddish. (Sholom Aleykhem was originally named Sholem Rabinovitsh- the famous Yiddish writer, author of Tuvye der Milkhiker renamed Fiddler on the Roof and many, full of Yiddish humor, folksy stories) I remember very well Yossi Peysi dem Khazn's the wonderful story about the Russian Jews' exodus to the New World. We were enchanted by the Yiddish writer's stories read by our teacher in our mother language. In Tarbut Schools we did not learn Yiddish at all.
Another event I remember is that with my ten years old classmates, we were invited to our teacher's apartment on Vilna Street in Volozhin to hear classical music. The young Lifshits couple were able to buy a real gramophone, one of the first in the Shtetl with some Yiddish, Hebrew and classical records. This event was a memorable one for me, though it took place some seventy years ago - we heard the famous Tshaykovski's Nut Cracker.
by Benyamin Shafir (Shishko)
Translated by Meir Razy
Donated by Anita Frishman Gabbay
Noach was born in Volozhin to his father Shimshon Perski. Noach's grandfather was the Starosta Rabbi Yoseph-Yosel Perski, a member of the family of Rabbi Shimshon the Dayan (the judge) who lived at the time of Rabbi Itzele, the son of Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin (see pp 46-48).
He was educated in the Yeshiva Sheary Torah in the town of Kremenchuk and then the Remilis Yeshiva in Vilna, under Rabbi Mila. He graduated from the Doctor Kahanshtam Teachers Academy in Vilna and was a teacher at the Tarbut School in the town of Suwalki and Valozhyn. He was a handsome man with curly hair. The combination of his inside beauty as well as his outside appearance created the all-encompassing person who inspired his students. He educated a whole generation of pioneers to work, love their nation and their country.
He refused to continue teaching during the Soviet occupation (1939-1941) period. During this time the cheder was converted to a Yiddish-based school. This change was attributed to a request by parents. Being a proud Jew who was committed to the Hebrew language he preferred to lose his work rather than give up his principles.
When the Germans occupied Volozhin he was the first to carry the yellow star of David on his chest. He considered this a symbol of national pride.
His whole family was murdered in Volozhin. Only his brother Yitzhak, who (at the time of writing) lives in Israel, survived.
Written by one of his students
Translated by M. Porat zl
Edited by Judy Feinsilver Montel
Reb Eliyahu was born in Oshmene on 1884. He came to study in the Volozhin Yeshiva in 1900 and learned there till 1906.
He was married very young to Dvora Elke, R' Itskhak Perski's daughter. In the shtetl, where every one had a nickname, he was called Reb Ele-Itshe Dverelkes. R' Eliyahu was one of few to receive the Hebrew journal Hatsfira. Every time, after receiving the journal he would run to Goralik, his subscribing companion and together they would read the journal from beginning until end. After finishing the reading an endless discussion would begin: about politics, Hebrew literature, Tolstoy's War and Peace, The Beyliss trial, the murder of the Russian minister Stolipine by a Jewish student and so for.
Reb Elitshe was diffident and modest despite his large knowledge and wisdom. He taught the Jewish students in the Polish Povshehna and Gymnasia schools religion lessons.
Reb Eliyahu was murdered together with his wife Dveyre-Elke in the Volozhin Ghetto on May 10, 1942. The Nazis shut up the Ghetto. R' Eliyahu ran from his house into the nook that the Volozhin inhabitants had prepared. While running he was shot to death by a German soldier.
By Fruma Tzitreen (Rogovin)- Tel Aviv
Translated: by Matz Dany and Matz Rivka
A. Berkovich's granddaughter
Abraham Berkovich was a notable and important person in Volozhyn. For that reason, I can still clearly recall his character traits. He was very handsome, of average build, smart and always in a humorous mood.
He came from Minsk. His parents were orthodox Jews and they wished to send him to study in the Volozhyn yeshivah. However, he preferred secular studies, and with his father's permission, he attended a high school in Minsk. After his father's sudden death, he was forced to leave his high school studies so he could help his mother with the household income. He continued with night lessons. He learned on his own and read many books. He was able to gain a great deal of knowledge.
He settled in our town when he married Keile from Volozhyn. He opened a pharmacy in the most central location, in the market place, in the house of Mushka Persky (the baker). The pharmacy was decorated in very good taste. Two of its walls were covered with fitted polished shelves and on them were medicines in bright glass jars. The floor was polished with red varnish and covered with carpets, which were made by local farmers.
For a few years the pharmacy was the family's only source of income. When the children grew up and the parents decided to send them to a high school in Vilna, Keile opened a fabric store to supplement their income. The business succeeded and it enabled them to cover the large expenses they had acquired for their children's education in the big city.
Abraham Berkovich had his hands everywhere. There was not a trade that he was not proficient in. He truly had golden hands. He was familiar with various construction skills (although he never officially studied them). After the big fire burned the town in the twenties, he remodeled his shop in the Perelman's building, so he could still make a living. At a later time he bought from Yehuda Abraham Persky, the ritual slaughter, his burnt bricks building. He cleared the damage and the water and rebuilt it. His power of invention was revealed when he invented a round heating oven covered with tin-a real invention in Volozhyn of those days. He knew carpentry, and the furniture in his home, which had an original style, was all hand made.
Prior to every Passover, he would work diligently to beautify and to decorate his house with many colors and ornamentation. The sight was heart warming and cheerful. He also excelled in sign painting posters and announcements. He likewise applied make-up for the theater actors. Those deeds revealed his artistic talent and creative imagination. In addition, he would read the Torah and would blow the Shofar in the synagogue. Although in all these skills he was self-taught, all things he did turned to artwork.
The Fire Brigade was his main hobby. He founded it and chaired it until 1935. From that year on, the Polish government took away the management of the association from the Jews and gave it to the district governor. Berkovich remained as a consultant and an honorary member only.
Berkovich was always very active and restless (due to his good physical health). His hands were always occupied with toil. His brain was always engaged with ideas and plans. For instance he realized that the city needed an optician. He gained quick knowledge in this area, he brought an optical instrument and the problem was solved. A story was told about him: once someone came to him to order glasses. Berkovich checked his vision and found it quite normal, but the patient insisted he needed glasses. Berkovich gave him clear glasses and asked him to come for a check up after some time. The man came back and was very satisfied that the glasses saved his power of vision.
Many who knew Berkovich mentioned in many occasions his stories and fables, we'll present some of them.
* Reuven Rogovin told the life story period of Berkovich before he came to Volozhyn. Back
By Lea Baksht (Fayguenboym) Netanya
Translated by M. Porat zl
Edited by Sandra Krisch
Yaakov (Yani) Garber was one of the prominent and most honored figures in our town. He came to Volozhin from Nikopol in Ukraine, where he met his future wife, Haya-Dina, born Perlman. The Perlman family lived in Nikopol during the First World War. Yani had an advanced academic education. His inner character was revealed in his behavior and attitude toward people. He honored everyone with whom he dealt.
Haya-Dina was a highly intelligent woman. One always imagined her reading a book of Russian classics. She died at a young age during an appendectomy, which was carried out at the Volozhin hospital in1933. Mourning was announced in Volozhin. All Chanukah events were canceled.
Yani owned oil, flour, and wine stores. Yani and his family lived in the big stone house built by count Tishkievitsh for R' Hayim and ultimately inherited by Malka Perlman (born Itskhaykin), Haya-Dina's mother. The stores were situated in its large cellars. Yani also managed his business from this house.
Yani was a wealthy man, but he did not chase after power and money. He worried a lot about the shtetl's poor population. The congregation offered him as a candidate to be the town head. The Jew's candidacy was rejected by the Polish authorities. He was elected, though, to represent the Jewish inhabitants in the town council. Yani considered this position to be an important function and worked hard to defend and to satisfy his congregation.<9> Yani was a devoted Zionist. After the pogrom in Pshitek, Poland in 1937, I was ready to make aliya. I asked Yani's advice. He took the pogrom seriously. He considered it a dangerous sign for Polish Jewry. Yani encouraged my decision and was very sorry not to be able to stand up and do it himself. Every Jew, in his opinion, was obliged to go to the land of Israel to build a home for our persecuted people. Such was his opinion but, like the great majority, he and his two sons did not move.
Yani was musically talented and blessed with perfect pitch. He often joined the Beytar amateur chorus. The choir's singing became a true multi-voice concert when Yani added his voice.
A piano stood inside the big salon of the stone house. It was the only piano in the shtetl. Dania, the elder son, practiced on it. He was taught by a Russian woman.
Gossip held that Malka, Dania's grandmother, once said "The teacher woman is already covered with gold while Dania is still playing octaves." But Dania continued his piano studies in spite of the shtetl's sayings. In parallel with high school studies he took music lessons in the Vilna conservatory, and he used to play concerts in public. Ultimately the piano saved his life. During the Soviet rule the authorities invited him to teach piano in Russia. There he married a Bobruysk-born girl; she too was a pianist. They lived in Russia when the Germans occupied Volozhin. Dania the pianist survived the war.
Monia, Yani's younger son, carried out a prank during the Russians' rule. He tore Stalin's mustache from a wall journal at the Volozhin high school. The Soviet NKVD did not like such pranks. Monia Garber was arrested in March 1941 and was sent to the Soviet Gulag camps. After the Stalin-Sikorski agreement in 1942, he joined the Polish Anders army. With this army he reached Israel via Teheran. He could not remain in the Land and was obliged to go to Italy with his Polish unit.
Monia (Moshe) Garber was killed in the Monte Cassino battle against the Germans as a soldier of the Polish army.
After the Germans occupied Volozhin, Yani Garber was nominated to function as head of the Volozhin Judenrat. The SS ordered him to gather 300 Jews to carry out a job near the military sport stadium. The assembled group was confined in the cinema building near the stadium. Word spread that all of them would be executed in the stadium. Yani understood that the Germans cunningly lied. As the Judenrat head, he could go free. But it was against his nature. Yani asked to be the first to be shot. His request was fulfilled. Yani Garber, one of the most honored Volozhin citizens, head of the town's Judenrat, was murdered at the sport stadium in Volozhin on October 28th 1941.
Yani Garber was the first Volozhin martyr in the first Volozhin mass slaughter.
By Shulamit Goloventshits
Translated by M. Porat zl
Edited by Eilat Gordin Levitan
Isroel Lunin arrived in Volozhin in the year 1910. He came to study at the Yeshiva Eyts Hayim. The Yeshiva was headed by Rabbi Refoel Shapiro. Isroel married the born in Volozhin Sheyne Berger, daughter of Feytshe and Tsvi-Hirsh. After the marriage he established a commerce of skins and linen in partnership with Itshe Meyer Berman and Lipe Levin. The linen was transported by railroad to Vilna. The business flourished after a short time.
R' Isroel adopted himself to the social life of Volozhin. He was elected as gabay, manager of the Klayzl Small Synagogue. He devoted much of his time to aid and assistance of the poor and the to economic development of the Kehila. He was amongst the founders of the public Bank Yiddish Folks Bank and became its first director. The bank assisted Volozhin craftsmen and businessmen. Isroel was also among the founders of the self-defense group during the First World War and was an active participant in its activities.
R' Isroel was also concerned about the Yeshiva building, its examination and reconditioning after it was damaged during the war. He wrote letters to Volozhin descendants in the States in which he asked for their assistance. The founds arrived and the Yeshiva was reconditioned.
He worried also about dwelling conditions and economical aid for the Yeshiva students.
Reb Isroel Lunin was honored by the Volozhin inhabitants. It may be demonstrated by the following event. Volozhin had a dozen of horse-harnessed-cart drivers (Baleygoles). Their main work consisted of driving passengers from town to the rail station. All was in best order until the day when Hayim Meyer Yeshaye bought a bus to transport the passengers. The cart drivers worried for their Parnosse bread yearning, they turned to Reb Isroel for help. Isroel had a strong felling that he must assist the cart drivers immediately. He suggested to Hayim Meyer to organize cooperation with the cart drivers. Hayim Meyer adopted Reb Isroel Lunin's suggestion. The poor cart drivers Parnosse was saved.
Isroel Lunin was elected as head of the Volozhin Kehila (congregation) soon after the Polish rule was established (early 1920s). He adopted himself to the modern time spirits. He assisted in the founding of the Hebrew Tarbut School.
Lunin became an ardent Zionist. I remember Grabovski's arriving from Vilna to collect donations for Keren Hayisod. He called an assembly in the Klayzl. The response was very weak. Lunin decided to make another effort. Together with Shlomo Hayim Brudno and Yani Garber they did a lot of Zionist publicity. The effect was big. At the following visit of Mr. Grabovski a considerable amount of money and valuable objects had were collected for Keren Hayessod.
The final fate of the Volozhin Jews was also Isroel Lunin's and his family fate. They were murdered and burnt with his beloved shtetl congregation on May 1942 Volozhin.
Standing from right to left: Alter Shimshelevitsh (Isroel's brother in law) the first victim during Volozhin Holocaust, was shot immediately with the Germans arrival. Haya Lea Shimshelevitsh Berger, Sheyne Lunin (Isroel's spouse).
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