by Rabbi Dov Burstein, ztl
Translated from the Hebrew by Ala Gamulka
|I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak, although in a short version, about a village, a small one, in Bessarabia - Yedinitz. It was a village of scholars, scribes, and studious people, and a nest of Hasidism and advanced culture.|
For brevity's sake, I will only describe some personalities of the village. This is as I saw them and got to know them closely during my visits with my parents, Rabbi Michael Burstein, and my mother, the Rebbetzin, every year until the Holocaust came upon them.
Yitzhak Grinshpan (known as Itzikel Yaakov Shaye's'), was a graduate of the Yeshiva in Kishinev, the capital city. The Yeshiva was administered by Shalom Perlmutter and headed by the Gaon, Rabbi Mordechai Frenkel from Soroca. Itzikel was blessed with various traits: as a Torah scholar, an outstanding pleasant leader of prayers, and as well-versed in Hasidic literature.
Occasionally, he used to tell Hasidic stories, and it was a real pleasure to listen to him and the way he spoke. He was also knowledgeable in everyday matters and was a clerk in the Savings and Loan Bank. There, he served all comers with loyalty. No wonder everyone well liked him.
Shmuel Loibman. It was said about him that he was somewhat miserly and was not ready to spend his money on trivial matters. Still, he was a special community leader. He was one of those who spent all their wealth on the public need. He was rich and did not have any children, and so, he built in his courtyard a modern synagogue. It was well put together and was one of the most beautiful and organized in town. In his later years, he donated his home to be used as an up-to-date hospital.
There was also Reuven Grozman, a Hasid from the Chertkov group. He was a nice man, pleasant, a community leader, who performed his deeds earnestly and loyally. He was especially dedicated to charitable institutions, and sometimes even became a chairman.
How nice it was to converse with the teacher, the scholar, a great lover of the Hebrew language and its grammar, Moshe Zamchover. He was the uncle of Amos Chacham, the first world champion of the International Bible Contest.
Rabbi Dov Burstein, ztl, wrote his article in 1968. As we were editing the book, we received the sad news of the passing of the author. He died in Tel Aviv on 8.4.1971 at the age of 75. Rabbi Dov was born in a village known for its scholars as Poliana, Ukraine. His father was the Gaon, Rabbi Michael Burstein, ztl, from Yedinitz. When Rabbi Michael moved from Yedinitz to Falesht, his son, Rabbi Dov, became the rabbi there. Before that, he was a rabbi in Odessa for one year. In 1923, he was asked to be the chief rabbi in Botoşani, Ragat. There, he published books about Halacha and religious philosophy in Hebrew and Romanian as well as an Apology in Romanian about the Jewish slaughtering customs. He was one of the important rabbis and teachers in Romania. He made Aliyah after the War of Independence (1950) and became the head of the Beit Din in Tel Aviv. He was an expert in divorce laws. He was a noble person and an excellent speaker. He was also among the leaders of Mizrachi in Romania and continued to be active in it in Israel. He left two sons and a daughter. He participated in the meetings of the Former Residents of Yedinitz in Israel.
The Jews of Yedinitz loved and admired liturgical music. They would often invite famous cantors, such as Froike Slipak. When a good cantor came to town, many people would come to the synagogue where he was leading the services. In general, in those days there was a feeling of universal inspiration and special times.
The atmosphere was deeply rooted in nationalism.
There were those in town with religious, secular, and nationalistic tendencies. However, it happened sometimes that there were vigorous discussions among those who were opposed to their worldview and beliefs.
My visit every year gave me a special feeling. On Shabbat, in my father's home, Rabbi Michael's home, there were scholars and plain and knowledgeable Jews. We would sit up late and discuss Torah matters.
It was a spacious home on the main street. On these occasions, I would be honored to give a lecture on religious or secular topics. These visits, full of spiritual meaning, I carry with me as a memento, deeply felt, and as an unforgettable spiritual event.
Tel Aviv, 1968
by Dr. Michael Landau
Translated from the Hebrew by Ala Gamulka
|Yedinitz - a village in the northern Hotin district of Bessarabia - was a village, like many others in Bessarabia - Lipcany, Britchany, Zaguritza, or Calarash. The difference between them was the general atmosphere, which was specific to each place. Britcheva or Markulesht were considered as colonies, since they were established for Jews who worked the land in the 19th century. Yedinitz, in the 19th century, was simply a village where people earned their living in commerce or craftsmanship, and from aspirations and trust in God.|
However, in this village of several thousand Jewish families, one could find farmers alongside small merchants and different craftsmen. Life moved quietly without any major events. There was excitement only on special occasions. The long rows of small, monotonous houses, with hardly a difference between them, still allowed a good, multi-colored life. Most of the Jewish families had many children. Every child brings his own luck- the mothers would exclaim when a birth occurred, and a child would lie in its crib. However, the young people did not yet grow roots, for a long time, in the black, muddy, and fertile land. When they completed their studies in various institutions or high schools, they would move temporarily to a big city - Czernowitz, Kishinev, or the Ragat centers, where they sought an expression for their talents or where they looked for a future for themselves. The temporary nature of moving away became, usually, permanent.
The parents remained in town. The patriarchal life became a burden for the young people. Many left Bessarabia and wandered to distant lands, mainly to South America. The same was done by many others from the nearby villages - Lipcany, Sekuran, Britchany, Novoselitza, etc. At some point, it seemed as if there were more Jews from Bessarabian villages in cities or countries in South America than in the original villages themselves.
The author of the article, Dr. Michael Landau, was born in 1895 in Romania in the village of Harlau. During WWI he fell as a prisoner to the Russians and spent a few years in southern Ukraine. There, he was exposed to the rich popular-national Judaism and its needs. He returned to Romania after the war, finished his law studies, and settled in Kishinev. He was one of the editors in Yiddish of Our Time, and later became its administrator. He was among the founders of the Jewish Party and was active in it in Bessarabia. He was elected as its representative for the Romanian parliament. He made Aliyah in 1936. Here he fulfilled many public positions. In the last few years, he has been the director of Mifal Hapais (The Israeli National Lottery). Only recently, we celebrated his 75th birthday. His memoirs were published not long ago. Dr. Landau had many opportunities to visit Yedinitz, and he writes about his memories in this article.
However, the spirit of Zionism and nationalism did not leave these villages even though emigration was not necessarily to Eretz Israel. The Zionist dream and love of the people and the land remained a part of the immigrants in their new locations. The proof is that many of them immigrated to Israel.
During the rainy season, the village became a black swamp, and high boots did not protect you from the black soil. To avoid crossing the muddy road, one needed a horse to visit the neighbor on the other side of the street, and conversations were held by shouting in a loud voice. For generations, no one thought of solving the problem by paving the road. No person from the local or regional authorities had to think that there was no paved road, or that the meeting for mutual help with loans or the distribution of the newspaper Our Time from Kishinev would not take place for this reason.
Yedinitz was located about 35 km from the closest train station, Dondushan. In the winter it was reached by sled attached to four horses.
On the day of the Public Fast due to the events in Eretz Israel, a protest meeting was organized. All the stores were closed, craftsmen put aside their work, and people came en masse. In the synagogue, the Holy Ark and the table nearby were covered in black.
The meeting was opened by the chairperson of the Zionist Council, Mr. Milgram. He was joined by Rabbi Burstein, Hillel Dubrow, and Sharfshteyn.
The cantor chanted El Maaleh Rachamim. The crowd was sobbing. A protest resolution against the British authorities in Eretz Israel was announced. It was sent to the British Consul in Bucharest. A message of sympathy was sent to our brethren in Eretz Israel informing them that we are ready to help them, morally and financially.
The town leaders would prepare for the invited guest, a large fur pelt with which he could cover himself. Only the eyes and the nose were not covered. Even the legs were covered with lamb furs. The trip took 3-4 hours, but the traveler did not feel the cold temperature of 25 below zero. However, during the rainy season and even in the summer after a downpour, the horses would struggle with the mud that stuck to their legs, and the wagon would groan as if it were coming apart. If you happened to go to Yedinitz in springtime or on a nice summer day, you saw in front of you green shiny fields, and tall trees swaying in the light of the morning wind. You would wonder at God's deeds, and you would be happy to be in such a rich part of nature.
The inn in the village was an ordinary house, where its large room was used as a living room and for dining, in addition to the bedrooms. Sometimes, the town leaders would have a spat if the guest did not want to stay with them. At times, they succeeded, and they did not even ask you. They decided for you.
Among the outstanding and important people, aside from the elderly Avraham Milgrom, we must mention the best teacher Hillel Dubrow, the local bank director Shteinburtz, Shimshon Bronstein, Rabbi Burstein, the teachers Toporovsky, Yashtchikman, Kusminer, and others. Some of them were considered by Avraham Milgrom to be too leftist, as they belonged to the Poalei Zion!
Poalei Zion was the movement of B. Luker from Bukovina and Sh. Kaplansky from the Technion in Haifa, but it was still regarded as suspicious by the authorities. They saw the group as dangerous to the security of the public. In the early 1930s, Shimshon Bronstein paid dearly almost with his life, to the local gendarmerie, for being a member of Poalei Zion. He was arrested, tortured, and beaten cruelly. Dr. Meir Avner, Bassint, and yours truly, caused a ruckus in the Romanian parliament about it. He was released, and the Romanian government brought to trial the gendarmes who performed such an evil deed against a weak-bodied, dependable businessman. However, the accused were exonerated from the accusation. To the end of his days, in Tel Aviv, Shimshon never forgot the evil that was done to him. He was injured in the legs by beatings, according to a Turkish method.
A small percentage of the Jews of Yedinitz managed to make Aliyah before the Holocaust. Those who remained, mostly, drank the poison to the bitter end: some died in Siberia, others were sent to Transnistria and were annihilated there due to hunger, thirst, or sickness. Very few returned and even less remained in this godforsaken place.
What can we do for them? Almost nothing. However, something must be done for the memory of the Jews of Yedinitz. We must tell the story to the future generations in Israel, our sons, daughters, and grandchildren. If not for the Holocaust, they would all join us to carry on the heavy work of establishing our homeland and fighting for its existence and future.
The little we can do is to speak about these Jews. We dedicate it to our brethren who died in such a cruel manner singing Hatikvah.
by Meir Zeit[a]
Translated from the Hebrew by Ala Gamulka
I only visited Yedinitz once. It was at the end of July 1935, a short time before I made Aliyah. If I were to concentrate on this one visit, my words would not be worthy of appearing in a book that speaks of memories of the village and its people.
However, I heard about Yedinitz and its youth a long time beforehand - almost as I joined the movement. I must admit that I had never before heard that such a village existed.
I joined Gordonia in September 1931 after a serious internal breakdown (as understood at the time) that happened in the Galatz branch of Hashomer Hatzair. Most of the seniors and the leaders left the branch and went back to being good children, i.e., went back to their studies. They would write their matriculation exams and enter the university. Two of them, Binyamin Schwartzman (Neki) and I, decided to continue with the youth movement and we chose Gordonia. It was a natural continuation of the reasons that caused our rebellion in Hashomer Hatzair. We were, it seems, the contrary of its true people. We did not accept the flirting of Communism and we distanced ourselves by joining Gordonia.
The two leaders of the branch (the late Machlis and Elkana Margalit) were happy with our coming for several reasons. The most important was the fact that they wished to continue their studies at the university, and that they had no one to whom hand over tending to the dozens of members in the branch. We immediately began to lead it and sometime later we were joined by others who abandoned Hashomer Hatzair.
Machlis gave me the archives of the movement (he was the secretary of the branch) and I immersed myself in reading the material that had been collected there. It was totally disorganized. There were pamphlets, ideological publications, reports, etc. The name Yedinitz was repeated occasionally. There was information about the activities of Eliyahu Bitchutsky, zl, or Issachar Rosenthal, both from Yedinitz, who were then members of the main board. There were also items about the activities of various branches and the response to the calling for volunteers for specific events.
In a more proper sense, I heard about Yedinitz a few months later at the first camp of Gordonia, in which I took part. On Leaders' Day there, Eliyahu Bitchutsky spoke in a pessimistic voice about the status of the movement.
He mentioned that there were only four out of fifty Gordonia branches deserve to be complimented for the educational work performed by them: Akkerman, Beltz, Yedinitz, and Galatz.
I must confess that I did not think that our Galatz branch was worthy of being counted among the well-organized ones in the movement and to be commended.
Personal acquaintance proved the good reports about Yedinitz and its wonderful young people, and by seeing it for myself. I remember my first visit to the preparatory Kibbutz Masada, near Beltz, in December 1932. It was close to the time of the first conference of the movement that took place in Beltz. In the lonely house in the middle of the fields, a mini Eretz Israel, I met for the first time young men and women from Yedinitz. They were Leah'ke Meidelman (Mann), Mania Friedman, David Groisman, and others. At the conference I made the acquaintance of Yosef Sonenshein, zl, and Pinchas Meidelman (Mann), who became my friends on our long route. It began in Beltz, at the Gordonia conference, and continued in the settlement of Avuka and in other life stations in Eretz Israel.
The special and unique trait in those who came from Yedinitz was their nationalistic and Zionist attitude, which always received special attention. I do not know if there were any Jewish Communists in Yedinitz, but what characterized the Jewish youth that I met, those I mentioned and others, was this loyalty to Zionism. We were not used to this in Galatz. We especially were not used to hearing Hebrew speech, almost fluent, natural, and well understood.
I, personally, knew Hebrew from home, but in our branch, we considered the language as our national, one that we would speak in Eretz Israel. Here, in Galatz, one must naturally speak Romanian. For that reason, it is necessary to use translated material to recognize various issues. It was always necessary to treat the writings of Marx and Freud as those that appear before translations of our own that deal with Zionism.
Here, in meetings with people from Yedinitz, everything was colored with a Jewish hue, more nationalistic. From where did all this emanate? Later, friends told me that these successes in the area of nationalistic education were the work of the teacher Hillel Dubrow, zl. He arrived from distant Lithuania and founded a Hebrew school in the village. This school educated several generations towards Zionism and Eretz Israel. This was its strength and important contribution to a special village.
As I continued my work in the movement, I met more people from Yedinitz, without my actually being there. I remember another episode from those first days. We still laugh about it and remember it with nostalgia and yearning. It was the district meeting in Britcheva. I was sent there when I was still a senior in high school. I came with two prepared lectures: The nationalistic and socialistic education and Sex Education. Sasha Gertzberg insisted I come for this conference because there was a deficit in education and there were too many theoretical and unclear discussions.
I fell into a group of hundreds of members who came to the meeting as if it were a conference. I fell in, and I caused a lot of disappointment. Everyone wanted Elkana Margalit to clear up some ideological conflicts in order to bring back people, away from historic materialism, and who were beginning to lose faith in the tenets of Gordonia. There was another young man with me, Shmuel Kushner, another rising star in the movement, but just as green as I was in philosophical world issues.
I will not discuss all the details of this meeting because they are not connected to Yedinitz. It will suffice to commend the wonderful contribution of the people from Yedinitz (There were about 30 participants from Yedinitz). Their ideological discussions, as I was so impressed, were amazing. Shahar, the fellow from Yedinitz who chaired the meeting, whispered in my ear: Botnik is killing us. I gave him my reply, and he responded with: These excuses you can give to your grandmother. I believed that, at least, the people from Yedinitz accepted my Zionist points.
This storm did not end the way other storms did, with the loss of members. Actually, Botnik returned to the fold after Margalit arranged for an ideological seminar.
From then on, when I continue to delve into my memories, it seems that at almost every step I met members from Yedinitz without my being there, for example, Liova Gukovsky, zl, active in Poalei Zion Dror, who came to the preparatory kibbutz of Gordonia near Beltz.
He preceded all his friends in the movement. They came a few months later in specific groups. Liova remained loyal to the movement, but he always wanted to unite and connect within Gordonia. I first met him in Beltz and then in Bucharest when he was waiting for his certificate. We met again at various stages as emissaries of Romania on the eve of WWII. Then again in Cyprus, in the detention camps for illegal immigrants. Between assignments, Liova managed to parachute into Romania. Until his tragic death, he lived the full life of a pioneer, always prepared to fulfill any task assigned to him.
In the preparatory kibbutzim (Hachshara) and my wanderings between the branches in Romania, I managed to meet many more members from Yedinitz. For some time, the village did not have a representative in the headquarters. Yosef Sonenshein, zl, was nominated several times for this position, but he declined for health reasons. It was only much later, when I was already in Eretz Israel, that Mordechai Reicher, zl, Yasha Chachamovitz-Navon (now in Hanita), and others, accepted these positions. Yedinitz occupied a good position among the leaders of the movement.
In the preparatory groups that paved the way for the founding of Avuka, Bitzur (united with Huldah), and Nir Am, those from Yedinitz stood out. They stood out in their numbers and in the special places they occupied in society, in their cultural and social influence, and in the special talents they exhibited in all walks of life.
These facts did not only stand out in Gordonia. One day, when I was already in Eretz Israel, I was told that in Yagur (there was a large concentration of people from Yedinitz) it was known that in Romania there were two big cities: The capital, Bucharest, and Yedinitz, the town that produced many pioneers.
As I mentioned earlier, I only visited Yedinitz once. I took part in the graduation at the preparatory kibbutz in Ripitchan. It was a sad day. Two pioneers, a young man and a young woman, drowned in the Prut River by accident. This accident weighed heavily on us, and especially on me.
The group was dispersed, and we went by wagon towards Yedinitz. The place was now in the hands of the future Nir Am group. There were about ten members from Czernowitz, and I accompanied them. With us were the members from Yedinitz who were preparing for their Aliyah.
In the evening, we arrived at Yedinitz after a long and tiring trip. We did not get to see much of the village. We were in the branch house as members were saying goodbye to those making Aliyah. We sat for a few hours with the teacher Dubrow, zl, and we spoke of the past and the future. We left the village the next day. We carried with us good memories of a Jewish village full of Judaism and Zionism. Many of its youths dreamed of making Aliyah, and a good portion of them were fortunate to fulfill their dream.
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