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Second Chapter:

A Chronicle of the Past


By Yehezkiel Seligman

Translated by Mira Eckhaus

In this section we have collected some articles from Bobruisk which were published in the Jewish press in the 19th century. We have brought these articles exactly as they were written - a living echo from a distant past, before the storm that attacked Bobruisk in the revolutions and wars.

A. Charitable and Benevolent Institutions (1862)

How precious and pleasant it is for a person of the people of Israel, who truly loves his people, to see the precious spectacle that the writers of the times predict for us for the children of Israel. Open settlements in Israel will be built from the donations of each city. Hospitals will be built here and school for Torah and profession. There they will build Beit Midrash and there they will establish workshops and craft factories until we can rightly say: that in every place where a Jew has set his foot, traces of justice, kindness and mercy were visible there. - - Therefore, I am here to tell the honorable readers of the “HaMelitz” about the good feelings that arose in the hearts of the dignitaries of our city and the good corrections that they made in the act of charity, and these are:

  1. Chevra Kadisha is the oldest society, but it is full of loopholes, because it was mostly managed by the elders of the people who do not pay attention to the orders and regimes of the society and are content with making large feasts every month and maintain a society, which is known as notorious and wild even in our city. It has already been known many times in its despicable acts that were done in secret, because when the shamashim (beadles) saw that the gabbaim (collectors) do not supervise their ways, it happened during the winter days, when they had a lot of work, that they buried two bodies in one grave, and many children were found in the yard of the cemetery on the piles of snow, and other such bad and terrible deeds, for which several people with God-fearing in their heart were connected to one association, that its essence is to escort the dead. Nothing will prevent the members of this association from fulfilling their duty: not a torrential rain nor the late hour. They themselves will escort the dead and they will bury them and they will take care of all the necessary repairs that need be done diligently. May God bless them for this kindness and truth which they do with dead and alive people, may their memory be cherished forever!!
  2. Until now, the hospital here was neglected and abandoned like a desert. It's a very old hospital that its walls and columns are is a very bad condition due to lack of care. Darkness prevailed in it, its bad smell was noticed by the passer-by and all its walls, gates and windows called out in all directions: netherworld and the doom - deep darkness and no orders!" And now, thanks to God, the honorable people of our city have managed to collect money and, in a few days, they will begin to build a large hospital, with clean and spacious rooms. May God reward these dignitaries for carrying out this great enterprise for the benefit of the oppressed and unfortunate sick of our people, and for the glory and honor of our city and our dignitaries. May their memory be cherished and remembered forever!!
  3. Until now, the number of the Talmud Torah houses was similar to the number of the houses of worship in this city, although they were all managed under one society and one income! And in almost every Beit Midrash was one or two melamedim with their students. And here, apart from the fact that it is not moral to make the Talmud Torah houses a kind of a shelter for abandoned boys, but there was also no benefit from them and their number because they were scattered in all parts of the city, and the gabbaim could not supervise them efficiently. And these unfortunate children grew up without knowledge and morals, without Torah and good manners, until with God's help, the dignitaries of our city have decided to build a special house for Talmud Torah so that they could provide comprehensive supervision over all of them together, and so that they could make new orders according to the spirit of the times, and they have already begun to build this house with honor and splendor, and all the people promised to bring money for the building expenses. In this house there will be spacious rooms for studying and special rooms for the melamedim and the abandoned students. And the honorable gabbaim are using every effort to make new orders and correct regimes in all the matters of this house and its practices, and above all, they want to teach these abandoned boys writing and language as well. And the children who do not succeed in learning the Talmud will be given, after they leave the first class, to craftsmen, so that they can learn a profession and will be able to make a living by themselves and will not sit around - lazily, behind the oven and the stove and hope that God will give save them. They should not expect that God will send them food and fine clothing. We often find,
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in our many sins, in the cities of Lithuania, those who impose on the public to take care of their livelihood, to our shame. Blessed is God who put such pure thoughts in the hearts of the dignitaries of our city, and may God will help them bring their pure thoughts to light.

The words of someone who love his people deeply, Avraham Yaakov ben Israel Papirna.

(“Hamelitz”, 25th of Kislev, 5622)

B. The Government School for Jews (1862)

Those of our people, who know the soul of the people and their condition, will not sigh in heartbreak at the sight of the public schools that were established by the honorable government, in order to teach our children sciences, language and knowledge necessary for every political man. - These houses are still standing as they were on the day of their foundation (in most of the district cities in our country) with no demand. So far, in our city, no more than twenty students have been learning in the school! And even those were from the poor, orphans and homeless persons, who fled to the gates of this house as a shelter and refuge from their poverty and difficulties. What can we expect from such boys, who for the most part will study for days or a decade and leave the school and be on their own? Therefore, we were very pleased to see that the respected, well-educated teachers, the honorable gentlemen Katznelbogen and Lias, made an effort to improve the status of the public school, and in their loyal spirit to their community and their work, they thought about ways to attract to them with abundance of love the children of Israel, and after searching and striving to know the main reasons that prevent the citizens of our city from sending their young children to study in the government school, they found two disadvantages: the first – since no respected supervisor on the school was appointed in our city as been done in other big cities, and the second – the studies in the school are only until 14:30 and no longer! Because the Christian schools are not similar to the schools for the children of Israel. In the Christian schools usually study the sons of ministers and rich people, that after finishing their studies at school, find in their home a teacher (geworner) and the books necessary for their purpose. But this is not the situation with the schools for the children of Israel, whose students are from poor families and abandoned orphans, that after finishing their studies at school, they don't find in their homes any parents, teachers, and the necessary books. And therefore, they can't succeed in their studies, and furthermore, they will also be corrupted even more in their customs and manners. That's why these respected teachers tried to solve this second disadvantage in our school (because the first one is not in their power to fix), and volunteered to come in the afternoons (after obtaining the government license for this) to teach there for a few hours (from 4 to 7) the general studies, such as writing Hebrew, Russian and Ashkenazi, and the reading in these three languages, and the beginning of the knowledge of mathematics, etc. They convinced also the teachers Bulgarovsky and Shrifther, to carry with them this honorable burden, and they did even more, because they announced in all corners of our city, that all the boys who study all day in special cheders or in the yeshivas, who cannot afford to hire teachers for these necessary general studies, can also come to the school at this time to study there the general studies for free! And with God's help, they succeeded because within a few days, many children gathered from all corners of the city. And there are currently about fifty children, and there is hope that over time their number will increase even more and reach up to a hundred! And also, that many of these boys will understand and appreciate the value of regular studies at school and they will start to attend the school all day, until forty of these students will attend the school regularly and only ten of them will come in the evening only for general studies. And now there is hope that in a few days the first disadvantage of the school will also be corrected, because the benefactors of our city and the dignitaries of our city, seeing the benefit of the school and its noble purpose, will surely wake up and choose a supervisor from among themselves, and then our school will develop, and be a blessing in our country!

The words of someone who love his people deeply, Avraham Yaakov Papirna.

(“HaCarmel”, 22nd of Sivan, 5622)

C. New Building for the Hospital (1863)

For many years, the hospital in our city, where the poor of our people would find a cure, was in a very narrow place. But not long ago, the dignitaries of our city decided to build a new hospital, and on the twentieth of the fifth month, they chose from among themselves well-known people to supervise those who do the work. The works will begin on the sixth month, and many blessings to the wealthy and honorable M. Michael Margolin

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etc., who took upon himself the great trouble of receiving the donation money from every generous heart, and to pay the money on the work and supervise it. And he did not tire of this holy work until the building was built to his satisfaction. And these are the details of the building: eighty cubits long, twenty wide, and thirty cubits high, the building is built in majesty and glory and its rooms and halls are spacious, and his inner rooms, the rooms of the patients, are beautiful and handsome. Cloth sheets are spread over the windows, and woolen sheets are spread over the floor, and every morning the building is perfumed with pleasant scents. At the end of the day - in this building, beauty and benefit have been brought together, and in peace together they will live. - And the dignitaries of our city also advised about the foundation of an institution for the expenses of this building, and they would build a kitchen house, a large-looking house, and from the grains of this kitchen house, all the needs of the hospital would be taken, and this hospital would be a lofty and a fortress for every poor person in pain and a shelter for every diseased wretch. May God will award the founders of this charity and their work, and all its supporters in the present and in the future will be blessed forever.

Meir Vygotsky
(“HaCarmel”, 8 Adar 5623)

D. Aid to the Hungry People (1867)

The price of grain, which has risen these days very sharply, increased the stress in our community. Apart from the poor and the destitute whose situation is worsened by lack and hunger, even the majority of people who have always found their means of livelihood, are now helpless to stop their lack now, because their expenses increased sharply, and the outcry was great, there is no house where there is not lack and poverty. This awakened the compassion in the hearts of our dignitaries, and they decided to call an assembly to consult properly what to do, and they all agreed unanimously to collect enough money in order to decrease the price of the grain. Immediately following these words, five benefactors rushed to put into effect without missing a beat. They took upon themselves the mission of going from house to house to collect the necessary money; even the most generous of the people did not stand by. Each one gave gold generously with a good intention, until a sum of money worth one thousand five hundred ruble was accumulated to compensate for the loss in the increase of the grain price. Baked bread will also be sold, and the bread that was sold up to now for ninety kopecks is now sold by the collectors for seventy. This is thanks to the generosity of the gentlemen and the owners of houses. Besides these, bread it will be collected from owners of medium- sized houses, in order to distribute it to those who cannot afford to pay even the discounted price. May God reward them!

And we will remember well the names of the collectors: the outstanding, sharp and knowledgeable in the Torah Rabbi Isaiah David Davkin, the honorable rabbi Reb Avraham Yudil Ratner, the Gaon and rabbi Reb Simcha Margolin, the honorable Nagid Rabbi Zalman Matlin and the God-fearing Rabbi Reb Aharon Katznelson, besides their efforts, they also gave a very generous charity of their own. May their name be blessed.

Israel Margolin
(“Hamagid” 1867, newsletter 49)

E. An “Educated” Person Visits the City (1869)

- In this great city of God-fearing, I asked and I found some lovers. I asked them a few questions about the state and status of education, and I researched and demanded very well about the school founded on behalf of the respectable government. The answers I heard did not give me joy even in the slightest, because most of them were not good, or even were bad. The hatred of our brothers (according to the majority) for the general education and its followers has not come down yet. A it was in early days, even now the opponents look at wisdom and intelligence angrily, curse or blaspheme the system of the educators who taught (according to them) sins and evil to the Jewish faith. They hardly paid attention and did not listen to the sound of the trumpet of the current time, and did not open their eyes to see and understand what the time demands of them for their benefit and success. Go out and think (as I heard from one of my acquaintances) how many people like that there are in the market of Bobruisk who complained on everyone who does not call after his prayer “Tzeida Laderech” and talked badly to those who were late to come to the synagogue after the “Barchu” prayer, said Amen in a whisper and did not move his body during the “Shmone Esre” prayer. Everyone who reads in small books full of question marks and exclamation marks was called by the crowd: “Er is fon der heintiger welt”, and this name is a nickname for shame, as is known, and in general, the city of Bobruisk is far behind the city of Minsk, because in the city of Minsk there are already many people who sought for the general education, these days the general education has many lovers, who desire its happiness and its success and talk about it with great respect and admiration and with very high warm feelings. In your wanderings in the streets of the city Minsk, dear reader, you will see many young people,

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members of the new generation, go and speak freely in the language of the state, they mostly do not believe in the fervor of Chassidism and the heroism of the “good Jews”. There are many schools in it and last but not least: “The general library”, which has been opened not long ago.

All these great virtues that give honor and respect to the name of Israel in the eyes of our neighbors, whether they are Russian or people of a different faith, you will not find in the city of Bobruisk, even if you search carefully, because there is still fanaticism there. The gates of the school mourn and its doors will not be opened, as they waited before they were built, because not many students enter the school. Young people for days (including those who are supported economically by their fathers or fathers-in-law) walk in the streets of the city with bowed heads, with wild hair and in their clothes full of pity and slime on all their ends, and all this from their great hostility to the reformation and their great hatred for new customs!!

And without leaving the city of Bobruisk with only bad rumors, I will end with a good word and give space here to everything that I witnessed on the 26th of February when I went to the synagogue: Rabbi H. Wilensky stands on the platform and speak in public about current affairs in the Russian language, and the people are against him. At the end of his words, the rabbi drank a toast for the life of the respectable emperor and for the life of all his faithful ministers and servants, followed by the clerk of the Hebrew school, Reb Winschel, and the teacher, Reb Birger, together with the students of the high school (many people from the city of Minsk came). He sang the prayer “HaNoten Tshua” (the Giver of Salvation), and “El Na Melech Netzor” (God please save the king) and the people went to their homes. It is a precious thing, especially in the city of Bobruisk.

Ya'akov Germeize
(“Hamelitz”, 1869, newsletter 32)

F. The Great Fire (1874)

Wednesday, August 21, 1874. God's furious came out and turned into a flame of fire that consumed and engulfed completely about one hundred and fifty houses, including three beautiful Beit Midrash houses for Torah study and prayer, that could compete with the magnificent Beit Midrash houses in the big cities. Many families were left destitute. Who can describe this terrible disaster in times like these, when the shortage has already taken people backwards. The damage caused by the fire will be doubled because even those who were not prey to the teeth of the fire were robbed by the thieves and murderers who hoped that such a thing will happen, and robbed everything they saw without any interfering. Bobruisk was like a desert, its beautiful houses, its glorified halls burned completely. This is the second time that Bobruisk celebrated (twenty years ago in this month almost the whole city went up in flames) the fire festival, in this month, and sacrificed thousands of souls to its altar. May God will grant this city the privilege not to celebrate this terrible fire festival ever again.

S. Zalman Meler Madinburg
(“HaLevanon”, September 25, 1874)

G. The Hospital and Pharmacy (1875)

The city of Bobruisk will be able to boast that despite the fact that most of its residents have a lot of wealth and were successful in commerce, there were also Torah and wisdom in this city. In addition to this, the city of Bobruisk will always be considered among the most respectable towns in our country Rusland, because its wealthy people always check its handling and managing very carefully in order to establish in it good and useful companies and charity in abundance is distributed in it every year for every good and useful thing. They established in the city Talmud Torah and Yeshivas, which operate according to the laws of justice and supervised by the nobles of the city, in order to educate the poor according to the ways of the Torah and morality. And the one that surpasses all of them is the magnificent hospital, which was built for about ten years with the efforts of the esteemed gentleman rabbi for his brother Rabbi Michael Margolin, may he live long life, and the pharmacy (Apotek), which was also established with the efforts of the esteemed gentleman Margolin will be for the benefit of the hospital, whose income is more than thousands ruble per year alone, apart from other incomes and beside other incomes and apart from the support of the respectable government or seven hundred rubles per year. It is impossible to talk about all the good and kindness done in that hospital, the hospital will contain thirteen spacious rooms, a prayer house and a bathhouse, and a nice garden for the sick to walk in during the summer. In the rooms there are twenty-two beds covered in clean white sheets for the sick. Two expert doctors from the King's army doctors visit the sick daily and cure them

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and a third doctor stands from morning till evening to serve the patients and answer every one who calls for assistance. Apart from them, there are other people who are always ready to bring in and take out all the necessities and to give each one his meal prescribed by the doctor, and they do not deprive from the sick good food such as tea and sugar and meat and wine and all kinds of concoctions, all of which is cooked cleanly and purely under the supervision of the honorable lady Risha Rachel T., the wife of the gentleman Margolin, may he live long life, who volunteered to visit the hospital twice every day to try the food cooked for the sick if it tastes good and to watch over all the conducting of the hospital so that everything will be conducted properly - and how many thanks to Margolin we have for most of his diligence and the amount of his labor this year for the benefit of the hospital, because on the occasion of the big fire that was in Bobruisk in the month of Elul of the year 5634, in which four hundred houses went up in flames, including the house of the Apotek in Bobruisk, which was destroyed to the ground, and all the valuable utensils were burned and broken into pieces, and the medicines were lost, the gates of the hospitals were closed – whose source of income was only from the Apotek - and all the residents of Bobruisk did not believe that its gates would be opened again, since that great fire had humiliated the honor of Bobruisk's residents and most of its inhabitants were very poor and lost their property. Until the day that this gentleman came, and like the angel Michael, he was filled with mercy for the sick of Israel and with great efforts and labor, he succeeded in collecting four thousand ruble and once again founded the Apotek house - by adding the money of the loans that he still had to pay – and made the new Apotek house even more beautiful and glory than the previous one. And immediately the gates of the hospital were also opened, and since then, the gentleman Margolin and his wife are striving to increase the dignity of the home and support it in every possible way. Blessed are you, daughter of Bobruisk, that you were privileged to it, and blessed are you, the gentleman Margolin and your wife, that you were privileged to be the doers and executors of such a great thing. May there be many like you in Israel.

Moshe Karashin
(“HaLevanon” 1875, newsletter 15)

H. New Bathhouse (1878)

In the past, there was a prophet or a reprover who preached the people of Israel about their crimes and their sins, and now there is no prophet and no reprover, but the articles preach to the people, and say and announce the iniquity of the whole city and its crime. Therefore, I write this time at the “HaKol” newsletter to say the sins of the city of Bobruisk.

This city has a lot of respect for God. There are thirty synagogues in it, three rabbis sit on the rabbinical thrones and there are also rich people in it, may they will multiply. It is unbelievable that in such a city there is no proper mikveh in accordance with the law and custom, because the old mikveh was almost destroyed and its waters are cold and in the winter days the daughters of Israel bath in ice cold water, and therefore, many women don't bath properly according to the religion of our holy Torah, and no one pays attention to that and don't say: why are we silence, after all, this thing is very important and crucial, but instead of doing something to correct it, everyone is busy with his own matters. Once, a few people rose up and went to collect money, but the dispute, the cause for every sin, did not let them carry out their purpose, because one party of the townspeople said to build the mikveh in one place and others said to build it in another place.

Ha! When will you understand! Gather a meeting, consult each other, collect money and build a new bathhouse, or fix the old one and install a sink and a machine so that the mikveh waters will not be cold.

And now my brothers, if you listen to my words, God will hear you, God will listen to you, have mercy on you and be gracious and fulfill all the desires of your heart.

And now, dear editor! Put these columns at the newsletter “HaKol”, maybe they will be useful and I would do good to God and to the people, from the one who cherish and honor you, the young man Lezinske.

(“HaKol”, January 4th, 1878))

I. Improvements in Talmud- Torah (1879)

With the efforts of the gentleman Mordechai Horowitz, may he live long life, the people of the city woke up to strengthen the Beit Talmud Torah and put it in proper order. The Talmud Torah was divided into three systems (classes) headed by educated teachers, who taught them the Bible and Gemara, writing, language and the state language. The poor children were dressed in clothes to cover them. Six gabbaim (collectors) will manage and supervise the Talmud Torah. Each one of them will be engaged in his duty for two months. And one gentleman sent to tell the gabbaim that he wanted to send his two boys to the Talmud Torah for a salary of one hundred ruble and he will dress them with the clothes of all the other boys, in order to avoid any envy. And now that the winter days are approaching, it is appropriate that the residents of the city wake up and raise alms for the winter clothes for the poor students.

(“Hatsfira” 1879, newsletter 40)

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J. Goldfaden's Troupe in 1881 in Bobruisk

In 1881 Goldfaden's troupe played six performances in Bobruisk. In the Minsk Historical Archive we found four of the six programs. On the program it is written that “the high-troupe of Jewish artists is under the personal supervision of the author and director A. Goldfaden.” The four performances were all of Goldfaden's pieces.

On April 19 “The Capricious Daughter,” a drama in five acts, was performed. In this spectacular show were Adler, Mrs. Michelson, Karp, Mrs. Abramovitch, Zuckerman, Shraga and Peker.

On April 20 “The Intrigues or D'vosia the Gossip” a comedy in five acts played. In addition to those already listed were the artists Berkovitch and Shraga.

On April 21 “Breindele the Cossack”—a dream in four acts and ten scenes with song and dance, with a cast of the artists Karp, Shraga, Mrs. Michelson, Mrs. Abramovitch, Zuckerman, Mrs. Vizer, Peker, Solomon, Singer played.

On April 22 “Koldunya” played. This piece was popular outside the country as well as in Russia. In Odessa, it was performed more than one hundred times.

In this performance the following artists took part: Karp, Mrs. Michelson, Zuckerman, Peker, Tabatchnickov, Singer.

Manager of these spectaculars was Lustgarten. They played in Epstein's summer theatre.

L. Dushman
(“Oktyabr” [October], 7/30/1940)

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K. Public Fasts, 1881, 1884[1]

On the15th of Cheshvan 1882, the rabbis of our town ordered a public fast which included boys ten years old and older so that almost the entire city fasted on that day; and with a broken heart said Slichot and also Psalms, and in the evening after Mincha, the rabbi, Rabbi Chaim from Haslavitz read a wonderful and delightful sermon which included moral lessons: a) that a Jew should not cheat a gentile [and] b) he complained strenuously that the sons of Jacob were trying hard to escape military service, since it may be that all the problems stem from this. The people cried a great deal and our hope strengthened that God would send us help.

Shlomo Chaim Lazinske
(“Hamelitz” 1881, Issue 44)

On the fourth of Elul 1884, this day was a day fasting and whipping by order of the rabbi, Rabbi Shemariah Noah Schneerson. All of us, large and small, congregated in the synagogues and we poured out our hearts before G-d and we asked for pity on his people, Israel, that he should elicit pity before our king and his ministers and advisors, to be good to us and that we should suffer no derision in the eyes of our detractors, who tortured during the last three years

(“Hamelitz 1884, Issue 73)

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L. Relations with the Fortress; The Foundation of an Old Age Home, 1884

Relations with the Fortress

On August 30, our king's birthday, General (Polkovnik) Merder and General Palinev had a party for the army officers and they also invited all the townspeople, Jews and Christians to share their happiness. And there was a great celebration among the people. The city's elite mixed among the officers of the army, and the city officials moved in the building, and the masses of people mingled with the soldiers, and all of them were given one roll of bread, one portion of food, and a fruitcake. And all congratulated the king when the generals offered a toast to his name and the ground trembled from the noise. This is how our brethren, sons of Bobruisk partook in the celebration of the generals and they contributed voluntarily in support of the expenses.

S. Z. Vinshenker
(“Hacarmel,” 5 Tishrei 1864)

On Kislev 1869, we had a very large loss. The commander of our fort in Bobruisk, mayor and head of the fort, an honest and righteous man who treated everyone equally, died. Last year, even though he was 77 years old, he worked hard to receive permission to open the grain stores that the government owned and held in the fort in order to lower the price and all this in response to the request by the Jews. This man has left, he went on a path of no return. His name will be inscribed forever: Commander Michael Ivanovitch Pushtchin, Major General—may he rest in peace!

The officers of the fort here, through the chief of police, join them in paying their last respects to the dead, to accompany him to the cemetery, and we were not late to return this favor to him for all of his good deeds, Jews and Christians joining hands, carried his coffin and followed him up to the outside of the city, until he came to the summer camps of the military, and we waited until they prepared the carriage to carry him to the city Paritch, his home, where he will be buried.

Israel Margalin

(“Hamagid” 1869, Issue 28)

On March 21st there was a great commotion due to the following occurrence: about 150 steps from the mound in front of the fort, under a tree, a slain Jew was found in whose chest there was a deep wound that was caused by a rifle; apart from that, the lower portion of the slain man's nose was cut and one eye was removed. A large crowd quickly came to the sight of this disaster; a police officer also came accompanied by a judicial investigator. They searched for the criminal's footprints but so far have not reached any conclusion. Suspicion is directed at the soldiers of our fort. I will inform you of the results of the investigation in due course.

By the way, the command of the fort does not like the Jews for some reason. A command was issued “not to let the Zhids enter the fort.” It's difficult to explain this treatment of the Jews by the fort's commanders. When the local command issued an order to prevent the entry of the Jews to the fort at the time his majesty the Czar was crowned, the Jewish youth sent a telegram the same day to the General-Governor in Vilna and requested permission for the Jews to visit the military exercises in the fort on an equal basis with the Christians, and this was permitted on the following day by a high level order.

(“Rusky Yevrey [Russian Jews]” 1884, Issue 14)

The establishment of an old age home (1884)

Our city became richer this year by one institution that could constitute an adornment by all means to a provincial city. I refer to the old age home that was built here by the local philanthropist Mr. Rabinowitz, by the wish of his mother that was read in her will. This old age home is very well organized and fits the contemporary demands of hygiene. Mr. Rabinowitz contributes money to the maintenance of the old age home in the sum of 30 rubles per week. Without this support, it is doubtful whether the old age home could exist, even though there are wealthy men here who can contribute to public institutions. The aforementioned Rabinowitz provides almost single-handedly all the necessities for the students of Talmud Torah in Bobruisk which, by the way, consists of two departments: Hasidim and Mitnagdim, both of which are covered by Mr. Rabinowitz.

(“Rusky Yevrey [Russian Jews]” 1884, Issue 9)

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M. The Founding of a Volunteer Fire Department, 1886

If the word “fire” should evoke fear in the heart of man wherever he lives, the citizens of our city will become even more anxious when they hear it, because we have no stone houses due to the proximity of the fort, and if fire starts during the summer it would find dry wooden houses which will be consumed, so many people have lost their property and were presented with empty cinders in past years. To counter this, some of our citizens who are concerned about their property and the danger of fire decided to establish a “Society of Free Firemen” in addition to the permanent hired firemen; their labor was not in vain and all the citizens, from rich to poor, helped them realize their plan. A few days ago the city leaders called a general meeting in which the commander of the fort, the mayor, the physicians and pharmacists, the city elite, Jews and Christians, all participated and established a strong association according to the following terms: every man who contributes at least 10 rubles will be considered an “honorary member,” and everyone who wants to become a member must do one of the following as well: either pay at least one ruble a year, the more the better, or donate work to the association. Needless to say that it is better to both make a contribution and join the workers.

The association will have three groups: one to salvage things from a fire, the second to remove and destroy, and the third to pour water and extinguish the fire.

A large crowd came to the meeting to help in the establishment of the association. About 500 rubles were raised, and the number of working volunteers was about 200 (mostly Jews). For the money which was collected and that will be collected, various tools will be bought as well as uniforms for the firemen.

We pray that there will be no emergency in our streets, and that the volunteer firemen will sit peacefully in their homes.

Eliezer Lazerovitch
(“Hatsfira,” 1886, Issue 20)

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N. A Reception for Reb Rafael Shapira (1886)

On the 23rd of Adar (March 4, 1886), the new gaon [genius] rabbi for the mitnagdim, Rabbi Rafael Shapira, son-in-law of the genius Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin from Volozhin, came to establish honorary residence in town. And the city of Bobruisk rejoiced, because it beat the Novoalexandravask Congregation, which for many days did not allow Rabbi Rafael Shapira to move his tent from it. About two hours before the train carrying the rabbi came, a large crowd assembled at the train station in order to receive their rabbi. Groups of people stood speaking of the rabbi's greatness and intellectual ability and some of the elite ardent worshippers forgot where they were and used the train station as a impromptu synagogue and they engaged in the Gemara section of “Makish hava'a liyitziya” with a full heart and with loud voices; and to their pleasant surprise the transport was late because of the ample snow that came down that day and covered the railroad tracks, and they finished their scholarly discussions. At midnight, the gaon rabbi appeared in his full honor and adornment accompanied by the city's elite who had travelled to meet him a distance of five Persian miles [about 4’ miles]. And when the rabbi stepped onto the platform of the train station, the entire crowd blessed him: “Blessed be he who honored those who fear him!” One pushed the other in order to say hello to the rabbi, until he reached the second class at the station. The gver [wealthy man] was waiting for him, Boaz Rabinovitch with his son, and they received the rabbi with honor and adornment, and they seated him in a carriage drawn by two strong horses, which was followed by carriages and carts filled with people that accompanied the gaon rabbi to his pre-arranged residence.

(“Hamelitz,” 1886, Issue 18)

[Page 264]

O. A Fight Between Jews and Non-Jews (1887)

On Monday the 21st of Sivan, the city was shaken because of a group of cowardly and petty-minded people who started to do mischief in the stores at the market:

The workers who take the rafts on the Berezina River through our city went into the market to buy things. One of them stole a pipe from one of the stores. When the store owner [a woman] ran after him to retrieve the stolen good, they all attacked her and hit her. Two Jews who came to help were involved also. There was a call for help and wagon drivers and haulers came and a fight broke out between the Jews and the Gentiles. The police came and caught eight of the workers and put them under guard and the fury subsided.

Yehezkiel Seligman
(HaYom 1887, 123)

[Page 264]

P. A Theater in the City (1887)

Recently, Hebrew players came to our city to present a play in the spoken Jewish tongue. They presented several heartwarming plays. Every actor and actress deserved adulation. But two of them in particular were extraordinary. They are H. Tanzman (he is also the manager) and H. Berlman. They were wonderful in their use of dialect in their songs and the emotions they expressed. Up to the point where the audience was so taken that it appeared to them that this was real life...and not a play. “Last Thursday they presented a wonderful play which is known as “The Doctor Al Masada.” The theater was full. Lots of people from our city were turned back because there were no more tickets.

Yehezkiel Seligman
(HaYom 1887, 240)

[Page 265]

Q. Loan Sharks (1888)

The moneylenders hold the poor people in the palm of their hands. And here's the story. A year ago, Mr. H.M. lent 1002[2] to H.Y.V., with payments of two and a half every week. In the first half year the weekly payment was delivered promptly. But in the second half, there was a tragedy and H.Y.V. couldn't pay. H.M. took the collateral; it was a contract on H.Y.V.'s house that was worth 800. H.M. took H.Y.V. to court. “On Thursday, the court officer came with the police and forced H.Y.V. and his family (with eight small children) out of the house. And now they are wandering from one place to another. And among all the kindly people, there is no one who can help. For the moneylender, this is a good start. And they've started pressing others to suck out the last drop of blood. Aren't the lenders Jewish? Where is their pity for their brothers?

Yehezkiel Seligman
(HaYom 1887, 240)

[Page 265]

R. Immigration to America (1888)

The desire to emigrate to coastal states and to America is still strong in our city. We witness many people leaving their hometown and their birth country going by boat to seek peace wherever it may be found. –

Yesterday, ten men left from Slavadka Street. Four of the people who left got married overnight and they took their wives and their dowry money and went on their way; on the other hand, four of them deserted their wives as living widows and left their families in a bad situation and in sorrow by stealing all of their possessions and they escaped. There are many more families who are ready to leave next week.

(“Hamelitz,” 1888, Issues 5, 121)

[Page 265]

S. Missionaries (1889)

On July 14th, the inciters Altchoisen from Vilna, and his son-in-law Meirson, and also the priest of the Protestant church in Minsk came to our town, and they began to distribute the inciter's books, which were written in Hebrew and in the vernacular. The poor pushed each other in order to get the books that the good distributed for free because these ignoramuses did not know the content of these books. But when they realized the purpose of the inciters and what was written in the books, they returned all the books to the hands of the “do-gooders” or ripped them to shreds. And when the inciters saw that their plan was not successful they left town.

(“Hamelitz,” 1889, Issue 163)

[Page 265]

T. Amateur Theater (1892)

It's been a year since gentle maids have established a society to teach a trade to the daughters of the poor and already many have registered to become seamstresses and they are doing well in their studies. Among them, some have succeeded in receiving a salary and thereby eased the financial burden for their poor parents.

However, the extent of this society's activities is very limited because the number of members is small and therefore earns little revenue. Therefore; the active members decided to arrange a ball for the benefit of the society treasury, and on the night of 9 Adar they realized this plan. At the request of Dr. Fiertag and Mr. Schneerson, the mayor gave permission to conduct the play in the theater. The house was filled to overflowing and all the rich and enlightened Jews appeared on time, and the play was delightful. The actors and actresses, all of whom were society members, impressed the audience with their great talent; we didn't know that they live amongst us and that they have never before tried to act on stage, we would have thought that they were professional and experienced actors of many years. The spectators did not stint honor and praise and there was no end to the shouts of “Bravo!” There were no public announcements in town and therefore only a few of our Christian neighbors came, headed by the commander of the Christian police, and they too fully praised the players.

The people who were involved in this good thing deserve praise, and here I list their names: the male players are Messrs. Ginsburg, a candidate lawyer, Razinsky, and Soyde –pharmacists. The women players: the young ladies Krantz, Mazal, Ram, Barhin and Rabinowitz. The first three have completed their studies in the gymnasium.

(“Hamelitz” 1892, Issue 53)

[Page 266]

U. A Furor Over Dancing During the Month of Av (1892)

A few weeks ago a German Jew came to our town and advertised that he would teach anyone, male or female, to dance for six rubles. The Hebrew “intelligentsia,” for whom the gates of the club are closed, was the first to respond to this advertisement, and even during these mourning days, they did not stop dancing, young men and women together, despite the orthodox and other observant Jews.

Yosef Davkin
(“Hamelitz,” 1892, Issue 166)
—There is a dance teacher, not one but two, and the daughters of Israel learn to lift their legs in dancing according to the rules of song and dance for a small price, one hour a day; and the observant and orthodox among us do not see this as a sign of corruption, and they send their daughters too to learn to dance, and if two or three young men are found who also are learning to dance, no one considers this a sin. What relation between Jewish observance and dancing? Can't a man who dances observe Jewish law? Does observance demand that people should deny themselves all pleasures of this world and become Essenes? If Mr. Yosef Davkin was not in a bad mood, he would judge the dancers favorably because not only on the 9th of Av did no Jewish man or woman come to dance, but also during the following days. But he judged them unfavorably because they did not mourn throughout the three weeks, because they didn't do this in order to rejoice but rather in order to study.

(“Not one of the dancers,”“Hamelitz” 1892, Issue 178)
—Not only during the days which are adjacent to the 9th of Av, but on the 9th of Av itself they danced, and not only the daughters of Israel, but young men and women together; and understandably the orthodox and observant Jews are not happy about it.
(“Hamelitz” 1892, Issue 187)

[Page 266]

V. The Cholera Epidemic (1893)

Because of the cholera which has begun to show up in our city, and already several people have died of this disease, several of our city's elite decided to issue rules to protect against it, and they established committees all over town, each one having ready medicines and spirits and physicians and assistants ready at any time to help every sick person, and to provide him with medicine and to rub his body and to do anything that is necessary to cure him without charge, and thanks is due publicly to these honorable people, Messrs. the gvir [wealthy man], the enlightened Rav Benyamin Harkavi, and the rabbi, Rav Shmuel Alexandraon, who worked without rest for the benefit of this thing and they made the rounds to raise money; and in addition to serving their daily duties in the community center, they continued to work there day and night to see that things were done correctly. In addition we should remember the gvir, Reb Zvi Kastalanski, and the gvir, Rab Shmuel Vigderovitch, who also worked a lot to the benefit of this cause. I would like to especially thank, in the name of our town's entire congregation, the honorable rabbi, Reb Yosef Binyamin Serke for his many activities—every time he was called for he would go to visit the sick and to help them as much as possible without charge.

M. Baksht
(“Hatsfira,” 1893, Issue 195)

[Page 266]

W. A Teachers' Organization (1896)

A teacher's association has been established and one helps the other so that they should not compete so that one should not eat the flesh of the other.

Zalman Shteinbach
(“Hatsfira” 1896, Issue 58)

Translator's Footnotes

  1. These public fasts took place in those days in all the Jewish communities in Russia due to the pogroms and evil decrees that were inflicted on the Jews. Return to text
  2. Rubles? The unit of money is not specified in the text. Return to text

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