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The Jews of the Nearby Villages

Donated by Yvette Merzbacher-Bronstein in memory of her great-grandparents Leib and Dina Bronstein (Zaicani), her grandparents
Elias (Yoil) and Liza Bronstein (Peru), and all the Bronstein family who perished in the village of Zaicani during the Holocaust in Bessarabia

 

[Page 459]

Zobrichan and its Jews

by Eliezer Ro'i – Reich

Translated from the Hebrew by Naomi Gal

* * *

For all these years, the question that troubled us was: how does Zobrichan look like nowadays? Since I left, I never forgot the village I was born although not all the memories were pleasant; yet, the best time of my life, the days of my childhood and the beginning of my youth, happened there.

“Between forests, between meadows” echoes in my ears the lyrics of an old Yiddish folksong and I see the big village immersed inside green gardens surrounded by forests on the north and west, and when you approached it from the east arriving from Yedinitz, you might think that the entire area was one big forest.

A canyon runs through the village, starting in the forest and ending at the edge of Pricholyanka (editor's note: this village's name is a transliteration from the Hebrew פריצ’וליאנקה. It was probably a village that no longer exists), a neighboring village, which had one main road to Zobrichan (editor's note: today this village is called Zăbriceni). At the edge of Pricholyanka runs a brook, creating a stream with pure water at the foot of the Morik Mountain to the west and around a wide prairie, a virgin land never plowed, where sheep graze to the sound of their shepherds' flutes.

Zobrichan was a privileged village. It was the center of an area comprising of 28 villages and a school run by Homotov, where students, sons of wealthy farmers from over and beyond the district, studied. It was well-known that whoever got a diploma from Homotov was sure to become employed by the governmental administration. Obviously, these clerks, most of them Russians, and the teachers that lived in Zobrichan gave the village a smart and high-society flair. The Jewish “Court People” of the village were mainly at the service of the landlords (the main one being Tshuhorino) and hence, had large houses and groomed gardens on top of earning a good income, something that will be discussed later.

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The Privileged “Bendichke”

Only a few people in Yedinitz knew about the “Bendichke”, an institution which was at the old bridge. The “Bendichke” was a Jewish woman, tiny, old, and nimble, pleasant looking and with a good taste whose small apartment was at the edge of the neighborhood and served as an information center to the “Condizia” teachers (this is how private tutors were named).

The network spread over to the whole regions in the country, including the villages on the south of the Hotin district and to the north of Beltz, where Jews did not want their children to become bums but to grow up with Torah and good manners (and those who could afford it) would come to the “Bendichke” in Yedinitz, who after listening to their stories would find them the right teacher for the “time” (in summer or winter times).

The Jews of the village of Zobrichan, together with the ones of the village of Pricholyanka totaled no more than thirty Jewish families and were the main providers of the “Bendichke”. It was known that if a teacher came from Zobrichan that this reference was good enough. However, the “Bendichke” did not settle for their origin and made the candidates pass an exam. The examiner was no other than Mendel from Baraboi. So it happened that I, too, faced Mendel, and suffered his pinch that left a trail of aromatic and greenish tobacco on my cheek in the light of the “Bendichke's” blue eyes.

The “Bendichke” believed that Reb Mendel would want me to join Baraboi's teachers, but she had to confess to him that I was just fourteen and a half years old although she presented me to him as being 17 years old. He refused to take me but recommended me as “deserving for others once I would be older than 16”.

When I found out about the “Bendichke's” failure I escaped Yedinitz and went back to Zobrichan deciding that I will not, unlike most Zobrichan youth did, become a “Bendichke's” teacher.

 

Privilege of youth – Fathers – and Neighbors

But fate decreed that I would not escape from the “Condizia” due to my 'ancestors' relationships” and adolescents' friendships, between my father z”l, and a neighbor from the village of Terebna, Idel Lerman, who married a woman from Mihailovca, a neighboring village of Baraboi (editor's note: today's Mihaileni).

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When Idel searched that year (fall of 1918) for a teacher for his children and for all the other Jewish children in the village, who were all like one big family with troves of complications and feuds, his first stop was with the “examiner” Reb Mendel from Baraboi. From him, he heard that he had examined a “kid”, 14 years old from Zobrichan and that if it were not for his young age, he would have taken the boy himself. The rest of the details he discovered, of course, with the “Bendichke's” help. When Idel found out from the “Bendichke” that I am the son of Hirsh from Zobrichan, he waited no more. He rode in his horse and came directly to our house.

My father, z”l, was an average-size man and quite robust. The Tzar did not spare him and held him in the military for close to ten years at the end of the 19th century. Besides his military service, he participated in the battle between China and Russia, as well as in the war with Japan in 1905 and throughout all of World War I. Standing next to Idel, my father looked minuscule. When I saw him disappear into his guest's arms becoming completely invisible, I felt hurt and offended.

Idel, who had albino hair, looked more like a goy than a Jew. He declared briefly and empathically to my father:

“Hirsh, I came to take your little treasure to Mihailovca”, and added at once, “I know, I know, he is not yet 17 years old, but he is my responsibility, hurry up, let him pack his belongings and travel with me at once”. And without letting my father speak he said: “the “Bendichke” will set the price”. My mother, z”l, who came back after changing her clothes for the sudden visitor, was even more surprised when she found out that her first-born and only son will immediately leave her sheltering wings.

Idel was able to convince her, as well as that he will be my father, and that Sheva his wife, will be my mother.

 

Class Struggle in Zobrichan

We mentioned already that the Zobrichan elite was the “Court People”, but there were three other social classes in town: the merchants and store owners, the farmers and the laborers, and another class, that because of their work or family ties was a sort of middle-class, as we will find out next.

There were in the village three synagogues, or more accurately, three “minyans”, each one representing a different class.

Sometimes the members of the different classes came together so as not to be embarrassed in front of the Goyim (who had one, and only a church in Pricholyanka, for both villages), but the union held for a short time only as there were ample reasons for splitting.

Part of the elite class in Zobrichan were the families Landau, Rosenberg, Diamant, Cooperman, and Rilk from the Lerner family.

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These families had close ties, which were mainly due to their class background. For sure, they did not give up their status among the small community of about thirty Jewish families (from both Zobrichan and Pricholyanka) with all the respect due at home, in the street, and most of all, in the synagogue. The Gabbai was one of theirs and made sure that when making an Aliya to the Torah, the good Torah portions went to the privileged ones (except the portions which went to Cohens and Levites) while the leftovers portions went to the rest of the Jews.

One exception was the portion that talks about all kinds of diseases, pandemics, and sufferings. This portion was given most of the time to one of the laborers (a tailor, a cobbler, or other workers) who used to wander from village to village during weekdays, living “dog lives”, and earning their keep with dry bread and warm water so that they will not eat non-kosher food, and where their only Jewish day was the Shabbat; spent in the synagogue and their miserable home.

 

A Dividing Torah Book

The local Jews understood they should better keep appearances as if “all Jews are friends” at least from the outside, and particularly, when it came to practicing religion, so that they all tried to include everybody in Shabbats and Holiday prayers in one synagogue, especially since there was only one Torah in the whole village.

I do not recall the reason any longer, but it became possible to get one more Torah. I still remember to this day the ceremony of consecrating the Book. Together with the Book arrived at the village the Torah Book writer, a skinny, bearded, emaciated Jew as well as dignitaries from the neighboring villages, including Yedinitz. The Torah was brought to Moshe Gendelman, the Gabbi's house, who belonged to the storekeepers and merchants' class. He was a “Zefira” reader and was up to date on world matters. His house was on the south side of the Pricholyanka village, while the synagogue was in the center of Zobrichan. It so happened, that the parade of consecrating the Torah, which was under the habitual canopy used for weddings and funerals accompanied by an orchestra had to cross the entire village and provoked the Goyim's curiosity, who due to Sunday weekend was at home. Our Jewish brothers, dressed in their best clothes for the occasion, preceded the canopy dancing while the women walked behind, wearing their finest jewelry, waving handkerchiefs, and kissing each other all excited.

This second Torah roll was the reason for the community's split. Even before the portion was due, the middle-class people headed by my late father demanded that the portion be read by one of the upper class, as done throughout the whole year. When the others did not agree, they declared they will no longer pray together and that they will start a separated minyan since there were already two Torah scrolls.

During the summer, the argument subsided but rekindled when the High Holidays approached.

[Page 463]

When the problem of bringing a cantor to the village arose too, the “revolutionaries” declared that they will not contribute to the budget of bringing a cantor because they would bring their own cantor.

The members of the upper-class understood the gravity of the matter and decided to no longer leave the Torah scrolls in the synagogue, which was in Haim Azriel's house, a poor Jew, as well as his sons; one was a farmer and the other one a blacksmith. As a safe place, they chose Boenish Cooperman's house, who assigned for the Torah a special room with heavy locks.

 

The Home of the Ritual Slaughter Lerner in Zobrichan

by Tsadkanit Horowitz (formerly Fradya Lerner)

Translated from the Hebrew by Naomi Gal

* * *

The village of Zobrichan which was close to Yedinitz was surrounded by meadows and forests and a chain of villages. Most of the population of this village was Moldavian, with a minority of Russian Ukrainians who were farmers working the land, growing poultry, sheep, and fruit trees. In those days, the area was quite well developed.

The Jewish population was circa 40 families, most of them connected by family ties. Some were natives and others came from other places. The village had no organized community center. Some of these community functions were filled by my father, Yehoshua Lerner, z”l, who was a shochet and a rabbi and served to the Jewish rural surroundings dispersed on a few dozen kilometers. The relationships between Jews and Goyim were mostly appropriate. The Jews, like in any other place in these times, were inclined to guard their national uniqueness and studied diligently the Torah and its Mitzvot. At the beginning of this century (editor's note: 20th century) a Russian state school was founded and led by Homotov, an experienced teacher and pedagogue who was well versed in Russian literature and other sciences. He instilled in the village the spirit of secular education, introduced us to the greatest Russian writers, and some of the western cultures. Unfortunately, we found out later that he was a fierce antisemitic.

The Jewish youth and the Jewish families had a multitude of children and did every effort with all the available means they had then to familiarize themselves with the values of both, the secular and the Jewish culture. Getting to know the national revival movement woke up in them a deep yearning for knowledge, for learning, and for getting to know the wide world outside their home and village. The parents would bring from far away Hebrew teachers, most of the time the best ones, and they founded a school for all youth. Besides Hebrew subjects, we were taught foreign languages like German, Russian, and later Romanian, and Yiddish.

[Page 464]

This atmosphere created an educated and idealistic youth that yearned for knowledge from which were derived Zionist fighters and pioneers, and to our distress, communists too.

Our father z”l, was a distinct scholar who worked diligently and studied the Torah. He was very involved with people and admired by the young. He often sat with us, the youngsters, until midnight discussing different topics and debating national and socialist issues.

Lea Lerner, my mother z”l, who was considered an educated and learned woman, was fluent in many languages and knew well Russian, German, and Hebrew literature. No wonder, then, that our parents instilled in us a passion for all human ideals, the way they planted in us the dream of fulfilling Zionism and the connection to the Jewish culture.

We were ten children at home, seven are still alive. Fanny, our oldest sister, and Liev, our older brother, died from Spanish influenza in the years after World War I. Our oldest brother and two sisters studied in Odessa until the Russian Revolution. When Bessarabia was cut from Russia and came under the Romanian regime, all of us continued to study in Czernowitz, which was back then, a Jewish spiritual and cultural center. Each one of us completed there the Hebrew Teachers School. Once we graduated, we all taught and helped spread the Hebrew language and culture. We taught in Bukovina, Bessarabia, Transylvania, and later in the ghettos of Transnistria, and afterwards in the Cyprus immigrants' camp.

Atara, our sister, founded Hebrew Schools in Chile, Peru, and Colombia while our sister Nechama, who joined us, continues to teach Hebrew and Jewish subjects to Israeli children to this day.

When we made Aliya, we went on teaching in Israel. While we were trying to instill in our students' hearts in the diaspora spiritual and mental closeness to the Land of Israel, constantly preaching the fulfillment of the Zionist vision, here, in Israel, we endeavored to give our Israeli students a profound understanding of the Jewish people in the diaspora and deepen their Jewish awareness.

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During the Holocaust, we were able to overcome horror, persecutions, and tortures solely with the strength of the fierce faith in the redemption of the individual and the revival of the Jewish People. We helped others as much as we could, guarding with all our might our inner world, lest it was broken. We labored not to lose our hope in the most tragic hours we experienced and tried to impart this hope to others. We gained this strength in our home, my parents' home. This was our legacy and our burning fire, which guarded us as we endeavored to guard it. Our brother Yosef was one of the founders of a dynamic pioneer movement.

Nothing remains of the Zobrichan Jews, as nothing is left of Jews in all of Bessarabia. Just a few smoldering cinders craving to do Aliya were left in cities and villages; the only survivors from the village were the youth who left before the war and the Holocaust, some who went to Israel, and others who traveled to over-the-sea countries. Most of the village Jews were exterminated by the Nazis and the local collaborators.

To all of them and to our parents, Lea and R' Yehoshua Lerner, z”I, I dedicate this article.

Jerusalem

 

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The Jews From the Villages of Galian and Rusen

by Ria Diamant

Translated from the Hebrew by Uri Bollag

For many years, the three Diamant brothers had lived in the village of Galian (editor's note: today's Golani, Moldova). Indeed, they were being called the “Galianer Jews.”

When the Russian Revolution broke out in 1917, they were afraid of remaining in the village and migrated over to Yedinitz. Yedinitz was linked then to a highly spiritual Jewish lifestyle: questions were asked to the Yedinitzer Dayen (Judge); to the Dayen who came for a Din Torah (Arbitration); and from Yedinitz, teachers were being sent out for the school year to teach the kids “Yiddishkeit” (Judaism) and prayer leaders of the local village synagogues for the High Holidays. In Yedinitz, Maot Chitim (money for wheat, or flour for Passover) were paid, and from there were brought Matzot for Passover and wine for the four cups. Parts of that family also lived in Yedinitz. In Yedinitz, one also bought the merchandise with which one traded in the village.

The children of the families of the Galianer Jews in Brazil, or elsewhere, still remember the religious atmosphere on the holidays and the piousness of the Galianer Jews during prayers, even though the Jewish homes were scattered among the gentile ones, some of them anti-Semites.

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Such spiritual wealth does not exist anymore today, even though we have all the possibilities of modern civilization at our disposal.

The village of Rusen (editor's note: today's Ruseni, Moldova) was an adjacent village of Galian. Factually, it was one settlement. In Galian, the inhabitants called themselves “Rusenaks,” they spoke with an Ukrainian dialect which Jews used to call “Kachlazke”. In Rusen lived Moldavians, and they spoke Moldavian, which the Jews called “Wolachish.” The stream Tshar (Ciuhur River) separated the two villages. Jews also went to that stream on Rosh Hashana to say “Tashlich.” Also, in Rusen there lived some Jewish families, but both villages together could barely scrape a “minyan.”

We would also like to recall the Galinian “Shochet” (butcher), Reb Meir Barladaner, may his memory be a blessing, an honest and pious Jew, a scholar: a faithful giver of advice who occupied himself with the needs of the community.

These lines shall serve as a modest gravestone for the faithful village Jews, the “Rindaras” as they were called, whose fate discarded them amongst gentiles, who fought hard for their livelihood and their existence as Jews, like all Bessarabian Jews.

 

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The Admor of Shtefanesht — A Guest in the Village of Galian

by Yosef Diamant

Translated from the Hebrew by Uri Bollag

The Admor[1] of Shtefanesht (editor's note: today's Ștefănești, a town in Romania) traveled to Mogilev (editor's note: town in today's Ukraine), and from there, he was going to come to Yedinitz. About a week before he was supposed to arrive in Yedinitz some of his disciples came to our house and implored my father that it would be worthwhile, even though he was not one of his disciples, to ask that the Admor on his way to Yedinitz would make a detour and be our guest for several hours. There was a two-fold intention in that. On the one hand, a Husiatyn Hasid hosting the “Shtefaneshter” in his home would show great respect and would widely publicize the Admor. On the other hand, he could exert influence and cause Rabbi Zalman Leib to “come over” and become one of his disciples. In any case, they saw great merit in it and thought he could not lose, only gain from it.

Father agreed to their suggestion, adding that the Admor would grant him great honor and pleasure with this visit. Both sides were satisfied.

On the afternoon of the set date arrived two carriages full of Hasidim, who drove to meet the Admor and his entourage on the road before they arrived in the area of Galian (editor's note: Today's Golani, Moldova). Father accompanied them to invite him to visit our home. The affair was surely settled while the Rabbi was still in Mogilev, where he was informed that on the way to Yedinitz he would be invited to the house of a Husiatyn Hasid.

And in our home, great preparations were made. “Leykach” (cakes) were baked, the house was cleaned up, tables were set up with drinks and sweets, carpets were laid out from the garden gate to the entrance of the house, etc. In the meantime, more carriages showed up and regular wagons packed with Hasidim in the dozens arrived. The astonished peasants of the village who asked what this was about were told that a “great rebbe” was about to arrive.

Around four o'clock, a rider on a horse rode up and announced: “He's arriving shortly.”

A few moments later his Honor arrived, while all the Hasidim cheered, “Blessed is he who comes, blessed is he who comes!”

After the Admor entered the house and was seated on the chair assigned to him at the head of the table, the reception began by his asking about the well-being of each of the guests, those named and those not named, and father gave the Admor a “Kvitel” (a little note) and an amount of money as a “Pidyon” (redemption) as was customary. After that, it began the snacks and the drinking of “Lechayim” (toasting), and they were poured generously. In high spirits, the tipsy Hasidim went out to dance in the garden. The peasants, who stood on the side, looked on with awe and whispered to each other, “One of the great holy men of the Jews is here.”

Suddenly two men appeared, making their way through the crowd, and reached the entrance of the house. They were the Greek residents of Galian and his son-in-law.

[Page 468]

They asked to speak to whoever “was in charge of the ceremony.” They had something important to tell him.

Father, the “Gabbai” (synagogue functionary), and another two Jews came out to ask them what they wanted.

The Greek man began truly begging, asking to be given an audience with the rebbe together with his son-in-law because he had an important matter, one of life and death, to discuss with the rebbe.

The Admor was informed of the issue, and after internal consultation, it was decided to grant them the audience.

After the Greeks received the affirmative response, they were astonished and wanted to enter immediately. But there, they were told that they were bare-headed and that the rebbe only received people with a covered head. The Greek's son-in-law took off from wherever he could take off and brought back hats for himself and his father-in-law. They were given short instructions before entering; that their speech must be dignified and polite. Only after they promised to adhere to everything they were told, the two men entered and stood in awe and respect before the rebbe.

The Greeks started speaking, and one of the Hasidim served as translator.

“I live in this village, and I am not capable of hard labor anymore; therefore, I opened a shop to make a living. Only, my shop competes with the shop of the Jew “Samuel Leib” (Shmuel-Leib), whom on a personal level I respect very much. I had no choice but to become his competitor. My only daughter, whom I love very much, is married to this man so that he can help me in my shop since I have aged and don't have the strength to work anymore, even in the shop. Now, see, my beloved daughter is with child, and she now has difficulties in labor; and it's clear to me, that that's the result of the rebbe's curse, which was given on behest of my Jewish competitor.” Here the Greek burst out in tears and continued: “I beg his Holy Grace to remove the curse from my only daughter and to revive her. For with her death, Heaven forbids, I too shall die, grief-stricken, after her.”

The son-in-law continuously corrected what needed correction in his father-in-law's speech, and the translator fulfilled his role with precision.

The Admor asked that the excited Greek be given a chair to sit and calm down. After he calmed down a bit, the Admor replied:

“I have no means of cursing, only of blessing, and regarding your daughter, I shall pray to God that He send her a full recovery since you seem to be a reasonable man and your plea touched my heart.”

At that moment the Greek burst out and exclaimed “Slava Bogu!” he kissed the corner of the Admor's dress and said, “I have been saved, I believe your honest and holy words.”

He took out a banknote and placed it on the table. The Admor refused to accept the money, and the Greek begged that his humble contribution be accepted, otherwise, his joy would be flawed. His plea was accepted.

Two days later, the daughter bore a son, and the Greek never stopped admiring and publicizing the rebbe, who thanks to his prayers, his daughter returned to life.


Editor's note:

  1. “Admor” is an acronym for “Adonainu, Morainu, VeRabbeinu,” a phrase meaning “Our Master, Our Teacher, and Our Rabbi.” This is an honorific title given to scholarly leaders of a Jewish community. In writing, this title is placed before the name, as in “Admor of Pinsk” or “R' (stands for Rabbi, Rabbeinu, Rav, or Reb) Ploni Almoni, Admor of Redomsk.” Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honorifics_in_Judaism. Return

 

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