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[Page 505]

Shlomo “Chasid” Shepsenwohl in Volozhin:
A Rare Chasid in Volozhin

Written by David Cohen (Tel Aviv) . 1845 in Haradock? Lithuania d: Bef. 1917]

Translated by Eilat Gordin Levitan

There was never a minyan (ten) of Chasids in Volozhin. Once there would be succeed to have nine the oldest will pass away. Amongst the very few was a Slonim Chasid named Shlomo Shepsenwohl. He was also called “the angel.” He was honored with this name by virtue of this story; He was very ill and had to have an operation. When he opened his eyes, and found out that they amputated one of his legs, he said jokingly, “Too bad, from now on I will not be able dance in pair, I will have to dance in single.” When the Rabbi heard it, he said “this is the behavior of an angel”. They said about him that his brain was bigger than his emotions, he could joke at a point of great suffering.

I remember one day sitting with a group of friends in our yeshiva, singing distinct songs we each knew from our hometowns. I started singing a typical Slonim song. At this point, a Jew with one leg came in and asked, who is singing the Slonim tune? I said, it is me, I am from Slonim. I invited him on Saturday night. As was the custom in Slonim, we would stay up all night on Friday and read the tunes. Especially when we reached the passage, “I pray for the pleasantness of the Shabat,” his voice came from the depths of his soul. I would forget that I left the Chassidut, and my soul would be sick with love. The Jews of Volozhin and the yeshiva students would stand outside and listen and someone would always say, “we don't have a minyan of Chassids in Volozhin, but we do have Chassidut.

Shlomo told me that one time he came to visit the head of the Chassidim in Slonim, who asked him, how could you go and pray again and again with the Mitnagdim in Volozhin? Shlomo answered, “Before I go to the synagogue, I say to myself, I'm going into the meadow; the bulls are walking around and making loud sounds, and I'm the only human being among them.” The big Rabbi said, “Why do you want to see so many Jews as bulls? It would be better to say that there are many people and only one bull among them.” From then on I would say to myself whatever the Rabbi said, and I gained more respect to the “Mitnagdim”.

On page 426 Binyamin Shafir Shishko from Israel writes; We had a special way of celebrating “Shmini Azeret” Simchat Torah of Eretz Israel that was also named- “Simchat Torah of Reb' Shlomo Chasid” the party was only in the synagogue on Vilna Street. It was the prayer house of Rabbi Israel Lunin and the heads of the Zionist party in Volozhin (Shlomo- Chaim Brodno, Yeshayahu Cahanovitz, David Yitzhak Kanterovitz, H. Alterman, Yehoshua Horvitz). It was also the place of prayer for Shlomo Chasid Shpsenwohl. He was a native of Horodok and he moved to our town. Regarding the fact that the man was a Chasid-he was very well liked by all the “mitnagdim” he was praying with. He was beloved and respected and in his honor they celebrated “Shmini Azeret” the way Chasidim would do it. Because of him we all celebrated Simchat Torah the way they celebrated it in Israel.

Followed by a comment is by Benyamin Shafir Shishko: “When I was in Tiberia in Purim of ... I heard in the synagogue Kiryat Shmuel that belongs to the Chassids from Slonim from the elder of the community, Rabbi Moshe Shelita the most wonderful tales about the amazing spirit of Shlomo Chassid.” Then a song that Shlomo der Chassid wrote in Yiddish: “No lambs, no herds, no wife, no children. Only 'happiness in the Kingdom of Heaven.'” This was printed in a Chassidic book [title given in Yiddish]


Shlomo “Chasid” Shepsenwohl


[Page 506]

Figures I knew

Eyzer Der Raznoshtshik (the Postman)

By Reuven Rogovin

I knew Reb Eyzer the Postman personally. He was called: “Diedushka (Grandpa) Yevzier”. A Jew of about seventy years old, of stocky builds, above average height, with a dark brown square beard (It reminded the beard of Czar Nicholay Alexanderovitsh). In summer as in winter he always wore a cape (Pelerina) and a big bag, full with mail, was suspended over his shoulder.

By what merit did he reach such a “distinguished imperial job”? By the merit that he had served as a Cantonist , a dedicated and faithful soldier of the Czar and had earned a medal for outstanding service, and on his leaving the army he had be given very good recommendations. As a reward he was accepted as a “Government service man”. He was the only Jewish Postman in the entire area.

As he walked, loaded down with his mailbag, all the children would run after him yelling, “Grandpa Eizer, letter Yest'?”, there's a letter? He would turn to them in a sternway and say, “Dieti, nikak Niet” Children! No letters!” This warning was not enough and we would run after him yelling “Diedushka (granpa) Yevzier, Pis'mo (a letter) Iz do?” He would stop in his normal kindly way and say “Riebiata Pierestan'tie shalit'” children cease to make fun. We responded to his demand and let him in peace until tomorrow morning.

When the Cantor in the Synagogue sang “ Who gives salvation to kings and the power to princes”, the prayer for the welfare of the Czar and his family, Reb Ozer the Postman would stand at attention, with dignity and respect, until the end of the prayer.

During the First World War the Volozhin Jews would engage in heated discussion in the synagogue as which side would overcome. Would the Germans defeat the Russians or the Russians would be victorious over the Germans? Reb Ozer always remained loyal to the Romanov dynasty and would prove with signs and miracles that the Czar Nikolay who gave him his daily bread, would overcome his enemies.

[Page 507]

Reb Hayim der Shnayder (the Tailor)

By Reuven Rogovin


Rabbi Hayim der Shnayder (Hayim Tsirulnik) and his wife Hayke


The writer Mendele Moher Sforim - “Mendele the Book Seller”, of blessed memory wrote: “As the Jews are considered among the world nations, so the artisans are held in low respect and humiliation among the Jews.” (From his book: “In those days”, Chapter 12). These words did not apply to Reb Hayim “the Tailor”. Despite his being a tailor-artisan, he was counted amongst the important citizens and held such a status as the respected town leaders.

His family name was Tzirulnik but everyone knew him simply as “Hayim der Shnayder (the Tailor)”. he was Eyzer the Postman's son.

I never saw Reb Hayim with a thimble on his finger or with a thread and needle in his hand. He owned the workshop in which two workers were employed. And both of them did the actual work. One of the two was Hillel Moshe Yudels, a tall, very thin and very poor young man. The second one was Yaakov “the weak eye”. How was he able to thread a needle remains a mystery until this day.

Reb Hayim was a community activist. He was the head spokesman for the Hevre Kadishe the shtetl's burial society. When any Jew departed from this world and needed to acquire a “place” (in the cemetery) things just couldn't be settled without Reb Hayim. He had been always the first invited to sit on the table head at the annual dinner of the Burial Society that was held every year on the tenth of the month of Teveth.

Reb Hayim acted also at the board of directors of the “Folks Bank”. As one of the community leaders he was always ready to defend the poor artisans and small businessmen who needed help.

He was also an ardent Zionist, and supported all the parties who worked for the Land of Israel. The respect he had among the people he acquired because of his honesty and good heart. He was never known to hold a grudge, he hated gossip, and kept away from anything that was false. He had always a friendly smile on his face.

After the war between Poland and the “Bolsheviks” we founded a large library in the house of Chaike di Krever (Hayke from Krevo) on Smorgon Street. On the days when books were exchanged – twice a week – Reb Hayim would visit the library to inquire if many people were reading. He was always interested in knowing what was going on in the world of Spirit and he respected very much those who read and study.

Hayim “Der Shnayder” with his wife were murdered during the Volozhin destruction, together with all his community Jews. I'm sure that even in that narrow dark “ghetto” he was still hard working to help all those in need. I am sure that even when his demand had been refused he would not be discouraged and on the following day he would return to ask for a little hot soup for the elderly and the sick. I'm convinced that he made all he could for his Kehila, even under the “ghetto” inhuman conditions, until he returned his soul to the Creator in sanctity and purity.

[Page 508]

Reb Itshe der Balegole (the coachman)

By Reuven Rogovin

Translated by Moshe Porat

Reb Itshe owned a horse and a covered cart, in which he used to carry passengers from Volozhin to the rail station. First it was to Malodetshno, then to Listopad, Horod'k and before the war to the Volozhin rail station. The alley, on which he lived, was called “Tsarskiy Dvoretz” (“The Tsar's estate” –Russian). So it was called in a figure of speech, actually a swampy mud covered the poor narrow lane. Without an improvised of some planks passageway it has been impossible to reach Reb Itshe's house.

A group of old Jews used to study in the klayzl (small synagogue). Each Shabes after the Minhe (afternoon) prayer they used to read the Psalms book, beginning from the 119thAshrey” Chapter “Blessed should be the righteous, which follows God ways” and until the end of the entire book. And if the Mayriv (evening) prayer time still did not arrive they would begin anew from “Ashrey”.

The group eldest man was Reb Moyshe Shmuel, an old Jew with a long white beard. He used to end each Psalms Chapter with a pleasant melody. Among the participants were his three sons – Fayve, Yehoyshua and Mates (from this family remained one survivor only – Yaakov Guirzon, Mates's son who's now in Israel). The other participants were Mihl Gavriel der Stolar (Carpenter) , R' Moyshe Smuel's brother, Itskhok Guetsl der Shuster (cobbler), Avrom Itshe der Katsev (butcher) , Itshe der Balegole (coachman), Perets der Balegole, Moyshe der Shnayder (tailor), Shmuel Itshe der Guenzler (Goose man) and others.

While Reb Moyshe Shmuel would start to read with his pleasant melody Ashrey – Blessed should… all participators used to pull out their glasses from the pockets. Each pair of spectacles was highly distorted, one set lacked a lens, another was without a grip, a third one was fixed with a bandage and the fourth was completely unsuitable to be used. Each set of spectacles had a kind of prosthesis; only Reb Itshe's glasses were more or less in order.

Reb Itshe used to read his Tehilim (Psalms) chapters with emotion and sweetness. Because, he, Itshe the coachman, a simple Jew with his own voice, could thank and praise the Almighty Universe Creator. And when Reb Moyshe Shmuel would begin to read, “Water Rivers flew from my eyes, because they did not guard your holy Torah…” (Psalms, chapters 119, 136), Reb Itshe would take out from his capote pockets a huge red handkerchief to wipe his tears.

After my wedding I continued to do my prayers in this Klayzl. Opposite to me had his place Reb Itshe der Balagole. On his right sat R' Berl Potashnik and to his left – R' Moyshe Shloyme der Melamed and Baal Koyre (the Teacher & Prayers reader).

Reb Itshe's stander (unit to lean on it when praying) was in such a state as the glasses of the Tehilim group members. But he never fixed it like he did not fix his glasses.

At the honored East wall had their places the most important Balabatim. Among them were Harav Naftali Hertz Eskind (he served as Volozhin Rabbi after Reb Refoel Shapiro's departure to Minsk), Ore Polak, Hershl Rogovin, Yankele Yohanan's, Avreml Rode's, Mihl Meyir Itshe's (a flax merchant) and other significant persons.

With time passing big changes occurred at the East Wall occupancy. Leyzer der Baker and Menahem Yoel Potashnik, both of them Gabay's (synagogue affairs managers) occupied Reb Eskind's and Ore Polak's places. The first passed his place to his son in law the feldsher Avrom Tsart, the second one – to his Grand son Kive Potashnik. At the place of Avreml Rodes sat his grand son Fayve Rodes, and Mihal Meyir Itshe's place passed to his son Yankev Veisbord.

On Yoym Kipur would Reb Itshe transform to be a man not belonging to the real world. He ceased to be connrcted to the earthy matters, all his brain and heart were immersed in the holiness of the frightful day. His whole spirit was excited and his heart aching. When praying he raised skies and hell until he fell and fainted on his chair.

Reb Itshe would change clothes twice a year – at Passover and at the Tabernacles. When the Tal (dew) prayer was said at the first day of Passover he used to take of the winter clothing's, even if it would freeze outside. Also when the Rain prayer was said at Shmini Atseres in the last day of Sukes he used to take of his summer clothes even if one would suffocate from heat.

Reb Itshes end was like the end of the entire Volozhin Kehila. One day he collapsed in the Ghetto. He was dressed in a long torn capote. Reuven Lavit (Reuven der Pakter) and Avrom Berkovitsh supported him spiritually in his last days.

[Page 510]

R' Avrom Hayim Marshak

By Israel Ben-Nahum (Holoventshits) – Givatayim

Translated by M. Porat z”l

Edited by Dr. H. Mendelssohn

Grandma Rohe Rayze, peace to her soul, told me the story:

Her father Reb Avrom Hayim Marshak's road to the Holy Land was a road of wonderful strength and heroism.

After he bid farewell to his family, his friends and the entire shtetl, Reb Avrom Hayim started to walk the long way on foot to Jerusalem, to the Holy City of peace. Arriving at the frontier he was stopped and for the lack of a transit pass he was habitually beaten until blood and robbed of all his worldly possessions by the border guards. After the maltreatment he was forced to do all the way back to Volozhin.

As soon as his wounds healed, Reb Avrom Hayim repeated his journey from the start. Seven times he took his walk to the Holy City and seven times he returned to his hometown beaten, wounded and robbed. From his eighth journey he did not return.

In Volozhin nobody knew what happened to him. No message or letter had arrived, as though he had drowned in deep water.

A year later a rabbinical emissary appeared in our town. He brought a message. At the head of the message the words: “MAZL TOV” were written. The town leaders wondered what it meant. The letter told that Reb Avrom Hayim, who suffered so much, had had been attacked and robbed by a gang of bandits. The hard blows killed him. Reb Avrom Hayim the righteous saw the Promised Land but did not enter it. He was buried in Jerusalem.

R' Hayim Avrom became famous among the great sages of Jerusalem. This is evident from the following story: In the Jerusalem cemetery, a grave was prepared for the body of a great Tzsadik. On the day, in which Reb Avrom Hayims body was brought to the City, another eminent Sage passed away. The town leaders could not decide who of the two should be buried in the holy grave. Lots were drown and the name R' Avrom Hayim came up the winner to receive this honor. Then the Volozhin balabatim understood the reason of the “Mazl Tov” heading. It announced that R' Avrom Hayim was chosen to be buried in a grave that was designated for a great Sage.

After many years I made Aliya to Erets Israel. I kept Grandma's wonderful story in my memory. It troubled me. I climbed the Olives Mount to find out whether my ancestor was really buried there. To my grief I could not identify the grave.

However, my brother told me that during the British mandate rule he asked the Har Hazeytim officials to show him his Great Grandpa's grave. They opened old notebooks. In one of them they found Reb Avrom Hayim from Volozhin, and accordingly they found the grave.

Now after the unification of Jerusalem in 1967, I mounted the Har Hazeitim (Mount of Olives) to visit my Great Grandfather's grave. With my own eyes I saw that my Grandma's story was true.


Rabbi Avrom Hayim Marshak's tombstone on the Olive Mount cemetery in Jerusalem


[Page 511]

Grand mother Rohe Reyze

By Israel Ben-Nahum (Holoventshits)

Translated by M. Porat z”l

Grandma Rohe Reyze was Rabbi Avrom Hayim Marshak's daughter. She had a unique personality. Grandma was skilled in religious affairs more than a Rabbi. She fought against those who took religion lightly and those who did not believe in religion at all, fresh thoughts that began to spread in Volozhin. Di Bobe Rohe Reize did it with humor and pleasant words.

At the 20th century was start Volozhin girls and boys used to walk on the Sabbath into the woods with books in hand. One of them trying to embarrass the old lady pointed to the gitrls and said: “Look at those girls, Grandma Rohe Reyze, they carry books into the woods”. “I'm not concerned about what they carry into the woods, I'm only worried for what they would carry from the woods”, (Es art mir nit wos zey trogn in wald, Zey zoln nor nit trogn fun wald), was Grandma's answer. The Yiddish word “trogn” has a double meaning. It means, “carry” and it also means, “to become pregnant”, she intended the second one.

Grandma used to begin the preparations for Passover already after Hanukkah. First of all she would organize the beet pickling. In the middle of a busy commerce day grandma would leave the shop and run to the market place to find a kosher barrel for the big project. Once the barrel was at home absolute confusion took over the house. “Don't go here, don't stay there, why do you interfere the Passover preparations?” There was no choice and a special room was allocated for the barrel. Once, I recall, after the beet was ready and the barrel was to be transferred into the cellar, the barrel gave up. The links cracked and all its contents were split over the steps. Poor grandma, she was obliged to repeat her Sisyphus work.

Charity was very important to her. On the Yom Kippur eve she would put “her” Zedaka bowl among the other bowls and she would care that it was always full.

Grandma Rohe Reyze was very stubborn. Once on Simhat Torah Grandma Rohe Reyze's announced on that she would interfere and even block the “Hakofess” if the Synagogue will not supply a Torah Scroll to the women's section. Grandma believed that women have equal rights as men to enjoy the holy Torah festivities. After long and sustained negotiations the Scroll was delivered; and the Volozhin women celebrated the holy Torah receiving-day by the ritual seven surroundings of the Synagogue's women compartment.

Grandma performed in Volozhin a heroic deed of a different nature. It happened on a Sabbath of the year 1905. While the Torah was being read, a group of “Bund” militants closed the synagogue doors to prevent the people's dispersing and to oblige them to listen to revolutionary speeches against the tsar. Bobe Rohe Reyze could not permit such a Shabbat profanation. She began to yell: “The kazaks' are coming”. The scared Bundists ran away.

It was an excellent omen in Volozhin to meet a person carrying a pair of buckets full with water. Grandma reached very old age, but was active spiritually and physically. One day she fell on her way home with two full buckets with water in her hands. It was a good sign. The straight and pious Bobe Rohe Reyze had arrived in Gan-Eden. (the Garden of Eden - the Paradise).

[Page 513]

The Famous Hostel Owner

A. Litvin

Translated by Meir Razy

I spent my most enjoyable hours in Volozhin with Patcholke, the famous owner of the Hostel where I used to stay. He gained this nickname because he used to call each of his guests “Patcholke”, “my honeybee”.

I dedicate this chapter to my host in Volozhin as a “Thank You” note for the time we spent together. This is also a thank you for the stories he told me about Rabbi Chaim, the son of Rabbi Yitzhak, about Baruch “the Galicianer”, about the “Lion's Roar” and Graf Tishkivitz. I am writing because Patcholke was the most unique and original character I have ever met in all my travels to Jewish towns.

I met him when he was ninety-four years old, but his age did not show. He considered himself young, his back was straight and his step was light, like a “running gazelle”. One of his neighbors told me about an encounter they had in the public bathhouse. “Four years ago, I met Patcholke in a public bathhouse. We both went downstairs into the pool of the Mikveh and on the way back I offered to support him on the stairs. I took his arm and said “ninety is an advanced age. You can lean on me to make the climb easier.” He gave me a look that almost killed me and shouted “get lost, young man! Who needs your help? I will get upstairs before you'll blink your eyes!”. And by the time I reached the fifth stair he was on the fifteenth stair.”

Patcholke was proud of his strength and when he squeezed a young man's hand, the man's eyes would twitch from the pain.

Patcholke was blessed with one hundred and forty grandchildren and great-grandchildren, although he had only three sons and two daughters. All his sons were Torah scholars, observant men. One son and one daughter lived in the U.S.A. The children who stayed in Volozhin are all dead by now, and he had said Kadish for them instead of the “normal” way in which children pray for their deceased parents. One son who lived with him in the Hostel died recently. The eyes of the old man tear-up when he talks about his son.

Patcholke receives money from his son in America but he does not need it. The Hostel he inherited from his grandfather provides for all his needs. The Hostel stands in the center of a wide yard where cattle and goats roam free. It also boasts a large and beautiful orchard of fruit-bearing trees. He planted these trees when he was seventy years old and the orchard is rented for an annual fee of thirty-five Rubles. He keeps several trees for himself, collects their fruit, dries it or cooks it, and distributes it to family and friends.

[Page 514]

When he thinks he is short of cash he goes to Minsk where his millionaire brother, who made his money in forestry, lives. His relatives open their purses for him and encourage him to take as much as he wants, but he always takes only one, one-hundred Ruble note.

Patcholke is proud of his extended family lineage. The father of his son-in-law was Rabbi Menashe of Ilya, a student of the Gaon of Vilna. People everywhere respect him and even at his advanced age, he studies a daily page of Talmud and does not need reading glasses. He did many things during his active life, and he likes to tell about his revolutionary activities and the risks involved.

All this had happened some sixty or seventy years ago, but he still gets involved in present affairs. During the disagreement between the NATZIV and Rabbi Israel of Salantai (who wanted to introduce Moral studies (Musar) at the Yeshiva), the NATZIV sent Patcholke to deliver a message to Rabbi Israel of Salantai. Patcholke went to see Rabbi Israel and stood in front of him quietly, like one of his students. When the GAON asked what he had come for, he replied in a docile voice: “I came to remind the GAON that all the people who attempted to hurt the great Yeshiva of Volozhin, the Yeshiva that produced many GAONs, experienced bad outcomes. This one died suddenly, that one lost his mind and the third one became very sick. Therefore, Rabbi, I came to warn him”. Rabbi Israel of Salantai took this warning to heart and ceased his initiative.

Patcholke was very proud that he met many Rabbis as most of the Rabbis who visited Volozhin stayed in his Hostel. He made it a rule to take each visiting Rabbi's shoes off their feet at night, and he had been blessed by one hundred Rabbis to live for one hundred and twenty years.

Patcholke is a happy man. He does not have any complaints before G-D or the world. He took good care of his finances and has a nice bank account. However, he knows that no one lives forever and he “prepares himself for the long trip”. But he does not mean it. He is like a young man full of vitality. He is sure that the six years he needs to reach the age of a hundred is like “money in the bank”.

[Page 515]

This is because he has blessings from one hundred Rabbis. He keeps a list with all their names, quoting the proverb “A Tzadik decrees and G-D fulfills.”

I am sure that Patcholke does not need the blessing of one hundred Rabbis. He is healthy and strong, and when he squeezes a young man's hand, the man's eyes twitch from the pain.

(from the book “Yiddish Souls”)

Dov Ber Kaplan

Yehuda Chaim Kotler (New York)

Translated by Meir Razy

We, the students from Volozhin in the Agriculture School in Volitchny, called him “our Berl”. He was a Pioneer.

The year was 1918. The first World War was coming to an end and we were students at the Yeshiva of Vilna. Both day and night, Berl was focusing on Talmudic questions but some rumors about him started to spread. The rumor said he was reading “forbidden” history and philosophy books!

And then, one day he announced that it was time for a change; to leave the religious books and to go to Eretz Israel. He did not loose his Jewish beliefs, he decided it was time to switch from the spiritual world to the physical one.

It was one year after the Russian Revolution. Many young Jews considered the Revolution as a precursor to the arrival of the Messiah - but not him. Berl analyzed the Revolution and concluded that it will not treat Jews the way they deserve. Unfortunately, his prediction was correct.

In October 1918, we left the Yeshiva and became students of the Agriculture School in Volitchny near Vilna. We learned and practiced work in the fields. Berl, a quiet and modest son of a Rabbi, worked diligently but did not forget his origins. He attracted a group of people from Volozhin to join our school in order to become Pioneers, productive workers in Eretz Israel.

In the autumn of 1918 and the winter of 1919, more students joined the school, including a group of members of the “Po'alei Zion” Party from Kovno. Our goal was to get a degree in Agronomy and then to immigrate to Eretz Israel.

[Page 516]

In the spring of 1919, the Army of the New Poland established its control over Polish lands and approached Vilna. We feared for our lives and organized a self-defense team to protect ourselves and the school's grounds. Berl was fearless and being the organizer - he instilled a sense of power and security in all of us.

During this period, he spoke to our group many times, combining his Jewish knowledge with world history. He discussed the future of the Jewish nation. He did not see any Jewish future in Marx, Lenin, and Trozky's ideology. He found Jewish socialism in the Bible and the Talmud and believed that this would be the way that will deliver national and social independence.

Some of his ideas were not always clear, but most of his ideas made sense and his energetic delivery convinced us all.

After several weeks of rampaging and lawlessness, the Polish Government established itself in the area. One day, on an excursion to Velikiy, we saw several Polacks attacking an old Jew. He was standing crying and they circled him, pulling his beard. Berl wanted to interfere and fight the men but we stopped him thinking the situation was too dangerous. He was very upset. How would we be able to protect our international interests in Eretz Israel if we cannot even protect our honor here where we live?

The school flourished and the local farmers were impressed by the dedication and hard work we invested in it. The school started a competition to grow the biggest cabbage. Berl took it personally and used to wake me up at midnight so that we could cover the cabbage in order to protect it from freezing. He was elated when we won first prize.

In the winter of 1920, he decided to go to Eretz Israel. He went to Kovna, where his father was the Rabbi, to say goodbye and to receive his blessing. His departure from the school was very emotional and animated and sentimental.

Years later I immigrated to the U.S.A. There, I heard that in 1921 Berl worked on a farm near Kedainiai and was very dedicated. His friends gave him the name “Nikolay” and this name followed him to Eretz Israel.

Several years later I heard that he was working draining swamps and building roads in Eretz Israel. Later I saw a photograph marked as “A Quarry in Jerusalem” in a book published by the United Jewish Appeal. It showed Berl holding a large hammer.

By the time of my visit to Israel in 1965, he was no longer alive.
Let this short note serve as a memorial candle for Berl.

[Page 517]

A “Luft Gesheft”[1] Story
(a story I heard from my father, Rabbi Mordechai Shishko)

Benyamin Shafir (Shishko)

Translated by Meir Razy




The Jewish brain is a miraculous creation. If all the oceans were full of ink and all the trees were pens and the sky was writing sheets and all the people were scribes – it would not be enough to describe the depth of the Jewish mind. Its ability to invent is limitless. Here is a story I heard from the older generation of Volozhin, a story that shows the uniqueness of the Jewish mind.

A Russian businessman from the town of Petrograd complained to the Tzar: We are brothers, both of us were born Christian, we both hate Jews, we know that they crucified the Son of God, but after all of this you, the Russian Tzar, do all your business with Jews. They build bridges, pave roads, lay railroads, excavate tunnels and supply the army. Why aren't you doing business with good Christians?

The Tzar listened and did not respond, and the man went home disappointed and upset.

Two weeks later a messenger from the Tzar came to the merchant and ordered him to come back for a meeting with the Tzar.

The Tzar said: I thought about your argument and realized you were right. From now on I will give my business only to Christians, no more Jews. I have a great business proposition for you. It will enrich you and all I am asking is a commission of ten thousand Rubles.

What is this business?

I will sell you all the air in the districts of Vilna, Grodno, and Minsk.

[Page 518]

The merchant was flabbergasted! Air? What business can one make of air? How can one become rich from the air? The Tzar must be joking!

The merchant looked for a quick way to get out of the deal and replied: I've just invested all my money in a new business and I am short of cash to start a new business right now. He left the Tzar feeling lucky that he had found a way out.

The next day the Tzar called Yankel, his long-term business partner, and offered him the same deal. Yankel was elated. Immediately he saw how he could convert air into gold. He told the Tzar they must sign a detailed contract stating that the air of the three districts now belonged to him. They wrote the contract and it was signed with the Seal of the Tzar. Yankel immediately gave the Tzar two ten-thousand Ruble notes, saying: I believe in this business, so I am adding another ten thousand for your charities.

Yankel hurried to see the local governor. When the guards stopped him, saying that the Governor does not see Jews, he showed them the Seal of the Tzar and immediately was led inside.

He instructed the Governor to publish an order that would be posted in each city, town, village, or farm stating, in the name of the Tzar, that the air belongs to Yankel. The owner of any opened hatch must pay him an annual fee of a quarter Ruble. For an open window, he would pay a half Rubble. A door would cost him one Ruble, a chimney – three and a windmill – ten Rubles a year.

The Governor did not like it, but it was an order in the name of the Tzar. He published the order. It was a hot summer and people kept their doors and windows open.

[Page 519]

Yankel collected the fees and very quickly grew very rich. But the citizens could not keep on paying and soon they complained to the Tzar.

The Tzar called Yankel and told him that he wanted to respect their deal but in the current political instability, he was afraid that it might start a revolution. Therefore, here is your twenty thousand and let's cancel the contract.

Yankel replied: Your Majesty, this deal made me so much money that I want you to keep that money and I am adding another twenty thousand. I wish you a long and healthy life and soon we shall make more deals.

The Tzar then called the Russian businessman, told him the story, and asked: do you now understand why I work with Jews? Their brain converts air to gold!


Translator's footnote:
  1. A Business without Foundation Return

Mera Schnyder - “Merke Ela's”

Dina & Lea Faygenboym (Netanya & Tel Aviv)

Translated by Meir Razy

Among the everyday Volozhin people who dedicated their lives to helping other people was Mera Schnyder (who was known as “Merka Ela's”). She was known as a “people person” and was a one-woman Social Help institution. At any time, she was busy helping people and every person who asked for her assistance would receive it.

Making a living in Volozhin was not easy. Market days were a significant source of income for many people. Many merchants used to ask Mara for her assistance in securing loans so that they could stock-up for market days. She would help anyone who asked her to negotiate a loan from the bank. On occasion, the merchant was late in repaying the bank and he would come to her, asking for help to negotiate a new date with the Bank Manager.

[Page 520]

She knew who could not afford a fish for Shabbat, who could not replace torn shoes and who needed new clothes. She helped the poor discreetly and did not seek glory or recognition.

Mara did not have much pleasure in her personal life. She herself was poor, the owner of a small store. Of her two sons one, Eliyahu Shani, immigrated to Eretz Israel in 1926 and passed away in Kfar Saba. Her husband Moshe immigrated in 1935. He worked in orange orchards, paved roads and had other hard-labor jobs. However, he returned to Volozhin when she became ill.

Even during her illness, she continued helping people. With her bent back, she limped from place to place looking for a dress for an orphan girl, a wedding dress for a poor bride, or money to pay a ticket to Eretz Israel for a Pioneer who had received an Immigration Certificate from the British Mandate Government.

All her good deeds did not save her life and she died several months before the start of WW-2. Many people mourned her death and joined the funeral service.

We shall remember them

Benyamin Shafir (Shishko)

Translated by Meir Razy


Rabbi Shlomo Chaim Brodno




Shlomo Chaim Brodno was the son of Rabbi Velvele (Ze'ev) “Patcholke”, the owner of a famous hostel in Volozhin. He was an intelligent and honest man, an outstanding public activist who was among the founders of the local Vaad (the Community Leadership Committee), the first Community Bank and many charities. He never used his positions to advance himself. On the contrary – he enlisted several young people to participate in managing public affairs so there would be a generation of skilled successors in the future.

[Page 521]

His wife, Pesla-Raizel Weisbord, managed the hostel. It was a nice and clean hotel, visited by many guests who came for vacation or for business with the different Government offices located in town. Rabbi Shlomo Chaim Brodno was not involved in managing the hotel. His business was in selling brandy to local people and wholesale distribution of salt to local stores.


Rabbi Yeshayahu Kahanovich

Yeshayahu Kahanovich and his wife Henya Tabachovitz


Yeshayahu was born in Volozhin. He was a dedicated Zionist and one of the founders of “Zeirey Zion Association” in town. He was one of the founders of the Tarbut School Organization and was its Managing Director as well.

[Page 522]

The stamp of the Tarbut School


Yeshayahu dedicated much effort to the support of the Hebrew language and one of his life goals was the success of the Tarbut school. He was one of the leaders of the JNF in town and opened his home up to any activity in support of Zionism. Yeshayahu was known as a very laid-back person, a deep thinker who was a symbol of Zionism in Volozhin. He married Henya, the daughter of Rabbi Yaakov Tabachovitz.

Just before the Holocaust he wrote me a letter in which he expressed his wish to bring his family to Eretz-Israel. We were saddened to see that he did not succeed in fulfilling this goal. He died along with the teacher Noach Perski.


Rabbi Avraham Horvitz

Avraham was the son of Rabbi Yehoshua Horvitz of Krakow. Rabbi Yehoshua was a Torah scholar and Zionist who arrived in Volozhin during the First World War. His home was a place where both Torah scholars and Zionists gathered.

Rabbi Avraham followed in his father's footsteps. He was an honest, measured man who was well liked by the people. He married Sonia Shrira.


Rabbi Yakov Tabachovitz

Yaakov was famous as a Torah Scholar. A tall, handsome man, he also arrived in Volozhin during the First World War. He was a skillful Chazan and his Yom Kippur “I am the poor” prayer moved and opened the hearts of his listeners.

His daughter Henya married Yeshayahu Kahanovich and his second daughter Sonia married Ze'ev Perski. His son Shimon was a Zionist and represented the Volozhin branch of “Zeirei Zion” in the “Zeirei Zion” congress in Vilna.


Rabbi Dov Potashnik

Dov was not a rich man but his qualities and good deeds were his “gold nuggets”. He had a unique quality – he did not expect the poor to come to him for help. Rather, he approached them. He knew who had problems and very discretely, without any fanfare, helped many people and literally saved lives. He loved all Jews for being Jews and did not expect any recognition.

[Page 523]

Most of his children escaped the tragic end of the town and joined the partisans in the nearby forest and then moved to Israel. One son and one daughter moved to the U.S.A. The son was one of the founders of the Yeshiva “Tiferet Bachurim” in Bnei Brak.

The adage “Light is sown for the righteous and joy for the upright in heart” (Psalm 97, 11) could have been said of Rabbi Dov Potashnik.


Zviya Zart, a midwife

Zvia was the wife of Doctor Avraham Zart, a daughter of Elazar the baker and his wife Fruma. She was intelligent, wise and kindhearted. She was both graceful and charming and considered quite beautiful. She was a G-D fearing woman. Her qualities made her both special and unique.

As we know, half of Volozhin was perched out on a hill, which made it quite dangerous to descend during winter. However, Zvia was not deterred by the weather - blizzards, strong winds and torrential rains did not stop her from fulfilling her sacred mission - to be the “mother of all living beings” in Volozhin.

It could be said about her: “When it snows, she has no fear for her household” [Proverbs 31,21], “She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy” [Proverbs 31,20]. She was a supporter of her husband, the Doctor, and their home was magnificent. It was like an aristocrat's mansion that housed the love of Zion.

When Mr. Menachem Begin (a member of the Knesset) visited Volozhin, the community welcomed him with a very warm and friendly reception which took place in the Zart's home. The reception was organized by Zviya and her friend Rykla Shepensvol (the daughter-in-law of Rabbi Shlomo Chassid). The house could not accommodate all the well-wishers who came to see the guest and many gathered outside near the door.

People still remember that party. All the attendees joined hand in hand and shoulder to shoulder singing “Am Israel Chai” while dancing for hours at the home of Avraham and Zviya Zart.


Rabbi David Yitzhak Kantorovitz

Rabbi David was a special person. He was a farmer who plowed his field, an early “Jewish Pioneer”. He planted a vegetable garden on the banks of the Volozhynka River, a place that was later used for teaching Jewish pioneers the secrets of agriculture.

I remember beautiful summer nights on the banks of the river with the stars shining above us, standing among the rows of cucumbers, tomatoes and beets that we had planted with our own hands. We were in the West, but our hearts were in the East (translator's note: this is a reference to a famous poem written in the eleventh century by Rabbi Yehuda Halevi 1075- 1141 in Spain).

[Page 524]

Those of us who survived the Holocaust and today live in Israel still fondly remember our friend David Yitzhak Kantorovitz, a farmer who promoted the Hebrew language, Hebrew schools, and the Torah.


Rabbi Shalom Leib Rubinstein

Rabbi Shalom was the son of Rabbi Eliezer (Leizer Pinia Natas) who was a Beadle in the Talmud Torah and educated his children to both study the Torah and to help people.

He studied at the Yeshiva of Telz, was a modest man, intelligent and honest. Rabbi Shalom never stood out nor did he serve in any public or religious organization. He followed the Talmudic edict “.. and receive every man with a pleasant countenance” [Avot 1, 15].

His wife Lifsha (the daughter of a rabbi) gave birth to two daughters, Bracha and Golda. He made his living from a small store and studied the Talmud between customer visits. He helped the poor and people in need. When someone asked for a loan and he himself did not have the money, he would borrow it from another merchant. He donated for “Passover Flour” and other necessities before the Passover Holiday. His wife used to cook in large pots, always ready for a poor person to join them for a meal. He was a “Chovev Zion” and bought land in Eretz-Israel.

During the Holocaust, the Germans wanted to detain the daughters as workers. However, the girls refused to leave their parents and, subsequently, died along with them, following David's lamentation “those who were lovely and pleasant in their lives, even in their death they were not separated”.


Rabbi Yaakov Shmuel Ruchamkin

Rabbi Yaakov was a student of the Yeshiva “Etz Chaim” in Volozhin, where he was a follower of the NATZIV. His first wife, Gittel Levison, died at a young age before she had any children. His second wife was Zvia Levit, a daughter of Rabbi Israel Levit, a Torah Scholar.

His business was a metal supply- store, but he did not focus on his trade. Rabbi Yaakov spent most of his time studying and teaching Torah and you could find him during most hours of the day sitting in the synagogue explaining the Torah and Talmud to anyone who asked questions.

He spoke very wisely and loved sharing his knowledge with the many people who benefited from his guidance.

[Page 525]

Volozhin in the Holocaust shadow

By Bela Saliternik (Kramnik)

Translated by M. Porat z”l

Edited by E. Levitan

I visited Volozhin close to the breakthrough of the World War Two. I left from Haifa to Constantsa (Romania) with the Polish vessel “Polonia”. Here I took the international train to Warsaw. Amid the passengers were many Polish functionaries and military people. Already in the train I came up against Anti Semitism. During a stop at a railway station, we witnessed a scene of some young Jews starting their way to Israel. A group of elderly relatives surrounded them. They were weeping at the separation. The Polish passengers remarks on the Jews were humiliating, poisonous and full with hatred. I was overwhelmed by their behavior. The few years that I lived in Eretz Israel had caused me to forget the bitter taste of Anti Semitism.

I found Volozhin in almost the same state as I left five years before, although some modifications were made. A big change occurred in the transport means. The road from Horod'k rail station to the town was paved and a bus replaced the horse cart. The town authorities arranged the water pond on Vilna Street. Trees were planted and benches placed around the so-called “Sazhelke”. The Volozhin inhabitants had the advantage of sailing on rowboats during summer and ice-skating in winter.

The young boys and girls, like before, were involved with the Zionist organizations. Their main actions were related to culture and instruction.

The economics were bad. The Jewish business volume has significantly decreased under the government taxes press. The turn over diminished and left less and less money to pay the increasing taxes. The merchants borrowed the necessary currency in interest. It created an endless loop, which destroyed more and more bread yearning places. The vicious loop brought the weak part of the shtetl's population to a slice of bread.

The Anti Semitism did break out all the damps. It became dangerous to pass the street. When we took a walk near the Orthodox Church, the gentile children threw stones on us. In the government shop on the market square a sign with huge letters “Swooy Do Svego”, (“Every one to his own” - in Polish) was exposed. It called the gentiles to avoid Jewish shops, not to do business with them and to boycott the Stranger-Jew.

Some of our mother's clients from the Ponizhe hamlet told us about the government-disheveled incitement against the Jews. Even at the “good” times was the coexistence between the Jewish and Christian populations not more then a mirage. Now it came to its end. The Poles implemented their decision to destroy the Jewish citizens.

The Volozhin Jew's longing for his homeland, for Eretz Israel was endless. Any knowledge from “Eretz” was immediately spread and became known by all. I experienced it myself. The Volozhin inhabitants' encountered each person coming from Eretz Israel with excitement. Many people welcomed me. They circled me and asked information about each possible detail. They posed more questions that I had answers. With difficulty I made my way home.

Their curiosity expressed the inner knowledge that all the bridges had been broken and the delivery from the miseries might be in Eretz Israel only. The state of Volozhin was well expressed in Hayim Bialik's, our national poet's verse: “We have no hope here, brothers, We are hopeless like a dove in the hawk's claws, Now both my eyes turn eastward” (“The little letter”-Bialik). But, to our great sorrow, the Volozhin Jews understood it to late. It was late, much to late, to flee the “hawk claws”. The “German Thunder” rolled his way and arrived. Volozhin stood on the eve of a bloody disaster, of such a calamity that never happened during the human history. Nobody among the Volozhin Jews could imagine the catastrophe's magnitude and the atrocities that would soon happen. There was a felling, an intuition, that something is coming, but nobody thought that this “something” would be the end of the days. No, nobody raised a similar, hopeless reflection. The existence seemed to be tranquil in a strange manner. Although, the Jew-haters turned around and they did whatever they did, but in their ugly deeds our Volozhin brothers could not see the coming on horrible future, the German assassins band, the main actors company that would play the true game, the TOTAL destruction game of the Volozhin Jewry.

When I left the town and said farewell to my mother and all my friends I had in mind the “Farewell” of our great Poet Hayim Nahman Bialik, and I repeated his words at our separation: “Rest in peace clay houses, beggars dwellings, leaking roofs and broken walls, sinking in dust until belly. Peace on you all, and best regards to the last of lasts, to the lowest among you, to the weakest tent”.

At midnight on my way back to Eretz Israel many people crowded together near my bus. They said goodbye with tearing eyes. They wished each other to meet in Eretz. I see the sorrowful looks always. I will not forget my last night in Volozhin. The separation was full with fear and with my sincere love to my dearest. What did they think at this separation? I will remember their sorrow eyes forever. My pencil is weeping in my fingers. In writing these memories, I completely admit to myself that the Volozhin Jews do not exist any more.

* * *

Bela Saliternik-Kramnik; Daughter Mika, born on eve of WW1; their 2nd daughter Tammie; Yaakov Saliternik Bela's husband. (1950)


Translator's note:

Bella Saliternik – Kramnik was born in Kurenets in 1914. At the end of World War One, after her father Michael's death, Mrs Freydl Kramnik with her daughters, 4 years old Bella and 6 months old Feygl resettled in Volozhin, where mother Freydl established and managed a clothing store. Bella was part of the first students in the Volozhin Tarbut Hebrew School and has been involved in the Betar movement activities. In 1932 Bella accomplished her aliya to Erets Israel. She made many efforts to provide an Aliya visa for her sister Feygl, but without success. In 1935 Bella was married to Yakov Saliternik. A Year later, when pregnant, she decided to give her baby's birth in her mother's home. She made her long journey by ship and train to Volozhin where Mika was born.

Bella's home in Tel Aviv became a second home for many of the Volozhin Shoa survivors during their first years of their life in the fighting for independence Israel. The family warmly and very friendly welcomed me with my arriving and immediate enlisting in the IDF. In Saliternik's home took place some new coming Volozhiner's marriages (Feygl Shepsnvoll, Yakov Kagan and others). Bella stays now in Hayfa after successive deaths of her daughter Mika and husband Yaakov.


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