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[Page 331]

Writers and Intellectuals


Alexander Melechson speaking at an assembly of émigrés from Yedinitz in 1967 about that town's intellectuals

[Page 334]

Golda Gutman-Krimer (Argentina)


The cover page of her two-part book
[Entitled My Town Yedinitz]

[Page 336]

Yitzchak (Isaac) Weinshenker

[Page 337]

Yehuda Steinberg


[Page 341]

My Years in Yedinitz

by Menashe Halpern

Translated from the Yiddish by Shoshi Blach

Menashe Halpern

Meanwhile, it was time to get engaged. I was sixteen years old. My mother was afraid I could become an “eyesore.” How could she allow such a grown child to wander around without an aim?

My parents started contacting shadchanim (matchmakers), people, experts who came to look at me, to examine me. I chased them away, but that did not help much. The match was made, “a match made in heaven.” The girl had learned Tanakh, this impressed me, but I decided I had to see the bride first. I didn't want a “blind” engagement.

Meanwhile, my father sent someone to look at her and to inquire about her. She lived far away in Bessarabia. Exchanging letters, he negotiated the dowry, the number of years my in-laws would feed us, and that we should meet halfway. We arrived in Ossetia, on the other side of the Dniester River (in Bessarabia). That's where I met her, took a look at her. I heard more because the girl had remembered a verse from Isaiah. We liked each other, a sign, and the same evening we got engaged, it turned out that both mothers had prepared Lekach and Fluden (cakes). The parents had decided everything beforehand. I felt a little bit betrayed, but there was no reason to argue against my engagement.

I got married in 1891. My father-in-law was called Naftali Kormansky, his family called him the “Taverner”. He was a Chassidic Jew, and his brothers followed the Sadigura Rebbe. I happened to be a little against fanaticism. To me, it was easy to fight because I was educated.

In 1892 I moved to Yedinitz, Hotin district, Bessarabia. I rented grain silos and decided to become a large-scale grain trader. The crop was very cheap and there were good prospects in speculation, but then the prices went down, I had a big loss and lost my dowry. My father helped me out with a few thousand rubles, but it did not help.

However, I did not worry much about my failures. My ambition was to work with people and to bring enlightenment.

[Page 342]

We, myself, and my dear friend Yehuda Steinberg, who was a teacher at a rich man's house, both worked for enlightenment. I did so openly, he did so secretly. First, we took away the responsibility for the Talmud Torah from someone who had carried it for a long time. Soon, we hired a better grammar teacher and we allowed numerous poor children in the shtetl to learn. Later, with the help of working men, we got rid of the Starost (mayor) and elected a new one, an enlightened person. We also created a library and we had hidden readers among the young adults. A few of them used to come and visit me at my home on Shabbat after the meal and follow my conversations with Steinberg.

[Page 343]

In 1893, a friend (reference to Azriel Edelman, Red.) went to Warsaw, and he took with him the manuscript of Steinberg's parable “Ba ir u bayaar” (“In the city and in the woods”) to get an expert opinion.[1] I also sent samples of my writing. Dovid Pinski, still a beginner, said he liked my work and welcomed me as an up-and-coming author. Soon, I received a letter in Perets's name to come to Warsaw to work with him. Perets had a publishing house that published small literary booklets following the example of Ben Avigdor's “Sifrey Agora” (Penny books). This would allow me to develop my writing skills. But I remembered Slonimsky's and Shapira's warnings (“The craft of writing is a misfortune, everlasting poverty”) and also the failures of the past, and all this kept me from pursuing my writing.

In 1896 I went to Suvalk to work with my father and brother-in-law to build military quarters.

By the end of 1897, I returned to my house in Yedinitz (but soon after, the author left this town – Red.).

(Extract from Menashe Halpern's “Autobiography”, published in the work “Parmetn”, Sao Paolo, Brazil, 1952)

Translator's footnote:

  1. Yehuda Steinberg was of the opinion that Menashe Halpern played the main role in the publication of his collection of parables “Ba Ir u Bier”, which brought him recognition as a writer. In “Ba Ir u Ba yaar” Yehuda Steinberg published a dedication to thank Menashe Halpern, in those words:

    “My friend and soulmate
    Menashe Halpern
    You woke up a sleeping soul
    You thawed a frozen heart
    You provided me with light and sunshine -
    To you I dedicate my book, and all my toil.

    Yehuda Steinberg” return


[Page 344]

Menashe Halpern

(Biographical notes)

Born in 5632 (1871) in Volhynia. Later, the family, wealthy people, move to Podolia. At the age of 14, he writes poetry. At the age of 16, he gets engaged to a girl from Yedinitz, the daughter of Naftali Kormansky (“Taverner”). In 1892, he moves to Yedinitz, where he meets Yehuda Steinberg, and took his first steps as a writer back then. With short interruptions, Menashe Halpern stays in Yedinitz until 1899. Afterward, he emigrates to (western) Europe via Russia, in 1905 he reaches New York, with another man from Yedinitz, Azriel Edelman, a colorful personality (about whom we also write in this book). They fail as businessmen.

Menashe Halpern publishes articles in the American press, little scenes, and stories. Later, they both return to Russia. In 1911, Halpern divorces his first wife and marries a Jewish woman from Moscow (with his first wife, who died in America, Menashe had three sons and one daughter, two sons live in America, and one son and one daughter in Russia).

When the revolution broke out, Menashe Halpern left Russia, and in 1926 he moves to Brazil, where he works in politics, society, and literature.

In 1937 he visits Eretz Israel and wants to settle there. But he falls ill, and the coffee shop his wife opened is not doing well. He returns to Brazil.

In 1933 he publishes a prose book in Sao Paolo: “Funem alten Brunnen” (“From an old well”). In 1952 he publishes a book with his memories entitled “Parmetn.”

During the final years of his life, he completely lost his eyesight. Menashe Halpern died in 1960 at the age of almost 90.

In his work, Menashe Halpern depicts the way of life in the shtetl of southern Ukraine and Bessarabia (with strong reminiscences of Yedinitz) during the second half of the nineteenth century.



[Page 345]

Eliezer Steinberg

[Page 347]

Yehuda Leib and Miriam Grozman

[Page 351]

The headline of Der Spiegel, published by Y.L. Grozman
The date indicated is January-February 1959 after his return from a study trip to Israel. This edition also indicates the 30th anniversary of the weekly newspaper.


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