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[Page 267]

Eulogy for My Father of Blessed Memory

Yosef Meir Itskovitsh

Translated by Meir Bulman

The expression ‘a Yiddishe Mamme’ has been deeply absorbed in the hearts of our people. In happiness and sorrow, when the mother sheds tears, we say: “No wonder! She is a Yiddishe Momme”. The well–known song ‘Mein Yiddishe Mamme’ has been translated to many languages and is sung by many people the world over, black and white alike.

Where is a father's place? It is explicitly written in the scriptures, “As a father has compassion on his children.”[1] Why was a song not written for him? Why does he not fulfill his rightful place alongside the mother? I do not understand or accept this injustice.

As my father's youngest child, as an orphan who did not get to attend his father's funeral– a man whose resting place is unknown. I did not get to recite Kadish at his tomb. I, the orphaned son, the witness to the loss of the Holocaust, would like to correct that injustice, to repair the distortion, and briefly tell of my father. I wish to recite Kadish in writing.

My father was named Natan, Natan Reb Dov.[2] That is what was printed in golden letters on the leather binding of the Khumash books, prayer books, Megilot, and even the Passover Hagadot that were placed in our bookcase at home.

His name suited him.[3] Father gave aid to all those in need. Father had an open hand[4] – was generous– and because his financial state was strong, he had the opportunity to give to the poor. He not only had an open hand, but an open heart as well – a heart empathizing with those in pain.

He had an open mind and was gifted with great intelligence, understanding, and judgment.

My father had the three excellent qualities that not all men are fortunate to have.

He was a handsome man, round faced, with a short nose – and underneath it was a short and thin moustache. He had eyes projecting wisdom and mercy that watched and pierced even the smallest object – without corrective lenses. He had an average stature, a strong, manly, and athletic physique. He dressed carefully, wore a tie even on the weekdays, and wore polished shoes without patches. His walk was pleasant and full of confidence, projecting respect, and illumination.

Father was an observant, God–fearing man, among those who prayed in the early Minyan at the New Synagogue, and a keeper of tradition, in which he saw both meaning and pleasure. [He was] a precise man, carefully observing all customs and laws on holidays and festivals.

He was a public servant, not seeking reward, (א קהלישע קליאמקע)[5] meaning:[6] קהלישע from the Hebrew word קהל[7] – audience, community– and קליאמקע[8] meaning door knob in Yiddish. And what does a knob do? It opens the entrance doors. And indeed, once father took up a certain matter, all doors and entrances were opened to him to fulfill his requests.

The tendency to assist, the inner drive to hastily provide aid, the talent and resources to act would not allow him to rest. Alongside his serene mental nature he was like a volcano when dealing with public issues. We members of the household were not pleased by father's involvement in public matters: we were concerned for his health. A hardworking man, an early riser for the Shachrit prayer with the early Minyan, he would not rest all day long. Interfering in every dispute to achieve domestic harmony, on more than one occasion we approached him and requested, “Father, please quit, stop it. What more do you need? You have a home, money, admiration, a wonderful family, you lack nothing. What do you need all this for? Why hear the criticism, the shouting, the weeping, and the swearing, when not directed at you? What for?”

As a merciful father he would answer: “Fine, I will no longer attend meetings.” Then after eating the Cholent on Shabbat, he would lie down for a nap (כאפן א דרימל”[9]). When we woke up, dad was no longer home – he went to a meeting.

Father had a unique and captivating speaking talent. At times, on Sabbath days during the Torah–reading break, when town problems were discussed and community binding decisions were reached, a fight, a fiery argument, yelling, swearing and even physical altercations took place. When father decided to go up on stage and say his piece, he would rise from his seat by the וואנט מזרח[10] (eastern wall), he would fix the wrap on his Talit, emit a brief, loud cough– to be heard by those nearby– and with slow steps, confidently and calmly, he would begin approaching the stage, calmly climb the steps, approach the table on which the Torah scroll was placed, shoot a piercing look right and left, back and forth, raise his right hand and slam it on the table with great force. The echo reached all corners of the house, to the women's section. He would open by saying,
“נעמט מיר נישט פאר אומגיט”, – “Pardon me, gentelmen, ”,איך מעג זיין אפילו אן עזות פנים–” even at the risk of impertinence, I must tell you,” – and following an opening like that, all tempers were calmed and all listened attentively.

Father was a figurative father to the town's orphans and widows, and would heed their every call.

In our confection work shop, among others, worked Minkhe Bat Leah – and she had a sister– Rachel. They were orphans, long passed the age of marriage. Father would take the care of fulfilling all the Mitzvot and customs in their home. When Passover was approaching he would ensure removal of Chametz and preparation of the utensils for Passover Kashrut. On Hanukah he would light the candles and recite the blessing.

Father was the representative of the Jewish town residents on the municipal council (gmina), and would represent all needs and problems to the council, and fight for the Jewish residents' rights.

Father was a pursuer of justice, loathed injustice, and was quick to assist his fellow man. He was fearless, and stuck to his goals – until victory.

He was very active in all town institutions: he was a member of the committee for Jewish volunteer firefighters–– and later established an all–Jewish wind–instrument band, a member of the board of trustees for the administration of the National Jewish Bank, a member of the Hebrew School parent's committee, in Gemilut Hasadim, and an honored representative welcoming special government guests (such as, say, the bishop or the district governor – “וואיעוואדע”). He would contribute to all charity objectives, bridal funds, book repairs, Bikur Holim, etc.

Father would greet all the distinguished guests from the Christian community, such as the priest, the mayor, etc., with a sharp mind, an accurate judgment, and a decision–making talent. He acquired a name as mediator in hostilities and squabbles among the Gentiles. When villagers would go to the town priest with claims and complaints regarding neighborly disputes, the priest would often invite father and consult him.

Apart from the priest, the Chief Rabbi in every Beth Din trial would also consult father. And though father was not a Talmudic expert, his vast intelligence and judgment–talent assisted him in solving problems, be they the most severe, complex, and complicated.

I remember instances when disputants would directly approach Father and not the Rabbi. Take for instance Seymme[11] Finkleshteyn from Voronova, who produced turpentine from needle–tree roots, and his cousin Moshe Kaplan from our town, who did the same. Every year as the snow melted and the roots were uprooted, problems arose concerning the rightful owner of the roots. The marks on them were unclear and so disputes and squabbles arose until they approached father, who in his wisdom and clear judgment, accepted by both parties, would mediate and decide. Of course, father never accepted pay for his mediation efforts.

He cared for the family endlessly. Once, angered at mother, I left home offended, and father went out to search for me. He patrolled the town streets and not even as he reached the woods was he able to locate me; he did not give up and continued searching. Equipped with Eytta Simme's “אייער–בייגעלאך” (egg bagels) he reached the bathing spot by the קליאטקע (a wooden passage over the river) on Dovozisk Street. When he met me there, he approached me and spoke to me with captivating and pleasant words, hugged me and gave me the bagels, and arm in arm we returned home.

I remember another incident: our parents were invited to attend the wedding of a relative – “שאשקע די שיינע” (beautiful Shoshke) from the town of Ivia – who was about to marry a grain merchant, Reuven Kagnovitsh (brother of the writer Moshe Kaganovitsh, author of The Jewish Partisan War in the Plains of White Russia, who lives with us in Israel). The wedding date was set for a Saturday night. The parents left Friday at dawn. Three family members stayed: my brother Eliezer, my sister Bilkhe, and I. One cannot simply be exempted completely, so father commanded us to store the oats from our field in Kekerke's barn, who was a Catholic of Lithuanian origin and friends with father.

We worked our fingers to the bone all day, stacked bundles, tying and storing them at the very top, under the haystack ceiling in the granary. We labored intensively, and when I tired and was drenched in sweat, I approached the spring to quench my thirst. I rested on the grassy meadow and fell asleep. When I awoke my whole body was shivering from cold and my head burned as a furnace. I was brought home and placed on the bed in the guestroom. I was burning up. My sister Bilkhe stood near the bed, gripped with fear, she too shaking and concerned. Gordon the פעלטשער (healer) examined and re–examined me and said what he said, but my sister did not leave my bedside and guarded me from harm. My older brother Eliezer הי”ד also stood by my bed, and tormented me by saying, “I told you not to drink from the cold spring water when you're covered in sweat, I told you so!”

Anyway, I burned up all day Saturday and my body radiated heat waves. My poor sister Bilkhe prayed to God that I hold on at least until our parents returned from the wedding.

After Sabbath was over, by Sunday morning light, father stormed the house asking, “Where is he? Where is Yushke Meir?” No one had notified him of my condition, no one had told him a thing, but he felt something was not all right at home – so he told later – and his inner soul, his intuition, whispered to him, saying, “Hurry home!”, and he ran and caught an early chariot, finding me in bed.

Father approached me, put his right hand on my brow, and observed me with merciful eyes; he asked me to open my mouth and stick out my tongue. He looked inside and exclaimed with complete confidence, “That's it! You have something in your stomach, it will soon pass!” He sat near me on the bed, caressed me, held my head in his hands, and slowly but surely the fever passed. I fell asleep, my head in father's arms.

There are many stories, practically all of which are true, about his great love and devotion to the members of the family. It was enough for his hands to touch the pained area for the pain to disappear, as if it never was.

His care for the family was limitless, and above all he was bound to his daughter – Bilkhe, who was his only daughter, who he loved more than anything, and who resembled his facial features.

I recall that when my sister Bilkhe left home on her way to Eretz Israel, members of the household accompanied her to the forest on Vilne Street. When we returned home, father's expression was like that of a man whose ship has sunken to the depths of the ocean. He could not find a spot to rest and mumbled something to himself.

*

In these paragraphs, written by me – Father's youngest child – I have tried with my meager words to describe his wonderful image, a humanistic and Jewish image. His multi–dimensional, colorful personality, was gifted with all the qualities of a man created in God's image.

I have a deep desire that the life and works of my father ז”ל serve as an example for my family members, my town members, their descendants, and the People of Israel today and generations to come.

Absent the ability to visit my father's gravesite and recite the Kadish, may those words serve as an eternal memorial monument.

 

Editor's and Translator's Footnotes
  1. Tr. Note: Psalm 103:13 Return
  2. Ed. Note: Literally: ‘Nathan Son of Mr. Dov’ Return
  3. Tr. Note: Tr. Note: Natan is the Hebrew word for “give”. Return
  4. Tr. Note: Reference to Psalm 145:16 Return
  5. Ed. Note: Transliteration: a kehilishe kliamke Return
  6. Ed. Note: Transliteration: kehilishe Return
  7. Ed. Note: Transliteration: kehil Return
  8. Ed. Note: Transliteration: kliamke Return
  9. Ed. Note: Transliteratin: khapn a driml Return
  10. Ed. Note: Transliteration: mizrah vant Return
  11. Ed. Note: In the original text the name is spelled: samech–tsvey yud–mem–ayen. Return

[Page 271]

About My Father and My Family

Shulamit Fuchs [Rogol]

Translated by Meir Bulman

My father, Arye Leyb Rogol, was a Divenishok native. His mother originated from the Berkovitsh family (she was related to the writer Berkovitsh, Sholom Aleichem's son–in–law)[1]. My paternal grandparents had a restaurant and barely made a living. My grandmother Freda was a woman of valor and assisted my father with the burdens of providing. She baked bread and bagels and sold them at the marketplace. She was a righteous, kindhearted woman who helped her fellow man.

My father was a Torah scholar and in his youth studied at the Lomzhe Yeshiva. At the age of 17 he became a teacher in villages. Among others he worked for a Jewish family at the Navinke[2] Village, near Suvalk.[3] In the evenings he studied secular subjects. A friend once approached him and asked, “What's new?” and Father replied, “As the light outside increases so does the darkness in my heart,” meaning: as the days get longer and the nights shorten, he must devote more time to teaching and less to acquiring new knowledge. Father was very saddened by that.

After he matured, father married his first wife, Lyuba Levine from Oshmene, and had two children with her, myself, and my brother Tsvi who perished at the Slonim ghetto.

Father then married a second a time, and had three children: Zelig who lives with us in Israel, Mina, and Eliyahu who both perished at the Voronova ghetto. Father owned the only pharmacy in the greater Divenishok area and made a nice living.

My father was very much devoted to Zionist ideals. Zionism was etched deep within his consciousness and being; the fruition of the Zionist vision was his life's focus and he passionately devoted himself to that idea. From the days of his youth he busied himself with Zionism. He and his friend Shmuel Chaim Levine were the only ones in towns who purchsed shekels for the first Zionist Congress. He was active in Keren Ha'Yesod and Keren Kayemet, and organized and guided Zionist youth movements in our town. Truth and justice were his guiding principles, and he never ceased caring for the needy in town. During WWI, he was active in Ya'akofu and distributed food to the poor.

In 1926 a fire erupted in our home. A gasoline container exploded in the pharmacy and father lighted a match to clean the gasoline. The gasoline caught fire and the entire house was engulfed in flames. Fear and grief–stricken, father became ill with Parkinson's and was bed–ridden until the Germans murdered him in the Voronova Ghetto.

 

Editor's Footnotes
  1. Refers to Yitzach Dov Berkovitsh. Return
  2. In the original text this name is spelled: nun–tsvey vovn–yud–nun–kuf–hey Return
  3. This is possibly Suvalki: samech–vov–veyz (or beyz)–aleph–lamed–kuf Return


[Page 272]

Dov Zandman

Translated by Meir Bulman

Son of Yehoshua and Khaye. Born in Divenishok, near Vilne. He was orphaned from both parents at childhood and was raised and influenced by his older brother. He had a sweet voice, and was an appreciator of song and music. After he matured, he was active in establishing HeKhlautz [Ed. note: Zionist youth movement], and assisted in establishing a large library. Due to his love of theatre, he was the lively spirit in the town's theater company. In those days he began to show organizational talents and a flare for leadership.

He made Aliyah in 1926 and immediately made Jerusalem his destination. Upon his arrival in the holy city he became bound to it with a strong bond of love, and despite the difficult adjustment, which included employment in hard, menial work for which he was not equipped, he refused to leave the city. Those hardships were chastisements of love for him and Jerusalem was holy in his eyes.

Since his arrival he was a member of HaHaganah [Ed. Note: Jewish paramilitary organization under the British Mandate of Palestine] and since 1929 he was active in the defense of Jerusalem, and all the danger sites. He was alert and devoted to all who were bound to the spirit of the Yishuv [Ed. Note: Jewish residents in the land of Israel prior to the creation of the State of Israel], and believed whole heartedly in the power nested in the Yishuv, fighting for its survival – particularly in the days of the difficult struggle against British Mandate forces post–WWII. He was beloved by his friends, because he radiated love to all who encountered him. He was among the first members in the HaMekasher Cooperative, and a member of the administration for several years. Later he was very active in establishing the HaMekasher library, because by his nature he was a book lover.

A few months prior to the eruption of Israel's War of Independence he visited the United States to see his beloved family members. But America's wonders did not charm him and a few weeks later, after explaining the concept of Eretz Israel to his relatives, he returned there, saying: “all that I have seen – does not belong to us”. When the Partition Plan was announced on November 29, 1947, he said wisely, “the implementation will come, we must prepare for a long and difficult struggle.” After that his work as a public driver in Jerusalem neighborhoods became a wide–ranging activity, and he served with dedication and Mesirut Nefesh [Ed. note: self–sacrifice]. Even during the bitter days of siege and attack, the smile did not leave his face, even with all the seriousness and responsibility in his heart, and he energetically continued his work. Even in those days he did not cease his care for the HaMekasher library and the distribution of good books among friends and children. On April 13th, 1948 he was among the leaders of the Haddasah envoy to Mount Scopus, and fell with them while fulfilling that job. He was brought to everlasting rest in a mass grave in the Sanhedria Cemetery in Jerusalem. He was survived by his wife, his son, and his daughter.

(this article was first published in the supplement to the Yizkor Book)


[Page 273]

Dov of Blessed Memory

Rivke Zandman

Translated by Meir Bulman

Since first meeting him, I knew to value Dov's unique personal qualities. He was a lively man, generously providing love and warmth to all he encountered. I knew him in the days when he was still young and fresh, a pioneer in the Fourth Aliyah wave, lovingly accepting the labor pains of acclimation, alert and devoted to all things concerning the soul of the Yishuv [Ed. Note: [Ed. Note: Jewish residents in the land of Israel prior to the creation of the State of Israel].

As days went by, with the years of work and setting roots in the country, he was no longer young, having passed the age of 40. The work and fatigue left their mark on him. Even then he devoted all his senses to the community and to strengthening public alertness. The difficult struggle against the British post–WWII was near to his heart; he knew how to explain calmly and without contentiousness the terrorism problem that was not yet solved. He would often warn of the danger terrorism posed to the Yishuv. He was then a driver for public transportation in Jerusalem, the city he was bound to with love from his first days in Eretz Israel.

Sitting by the wheel, he was fully devoted to his public role, which he knew how to elevate to a humanistic level with great responsibility, taking a wise approach to his audience. Many friends always surrounded him, and Dov was not one to mince words; at the center of his conversation were issues of the Yishuv. People took heed of his words and admired him for being a good and kind man. With the news of the partition plan on November 29, 1947, when the streets were filled with crowds of people drunk with happiness, he knew to control his emotions and remain alert to the pending hardships. “The implementation will come,” he said, “We must be prepared for a long and difficult struggle”. And indeed, we entered a war, and the first victims on the road to an independent state fell that day. Since then Dov's work as public transportation driver in Jerusalem included a wide range of public activism, and he showed devotion and sacrifice for the sake of public transportation.

Those days were immensely difficult. Death hid at every corner. Dov continued his work, his heart heavy. The bond and responsibility towards the family was great, and even greater was his willingness for sacrifice in the appointed role. Yaakov, his youngest, was detached from home, at Mishmar HaEmek, heavily attacked in those days. Despite that, his smile remained as he often joked and laughed, sweetening the bitterness in his heart.

On those difficult days, Dov did not cease caring for the HaMekasher library, devoting his precious time to encourage readership among friends and children. The children knew to value their devoted librarian, Dov. He also knew to read and understand well, being a man of the book, and with a great taste and a touch for literature. He quenched his thirst for knowledge by reading wise and renowned authors; he read poems by Tchernichovsky and Bialik, history and biblical books, and Gandhi's The Story of My Experiments with Truth.

That was Berrele from Divenishok, his small birth town near Vilne. He fondly remembered his childhood experiences. He knew how to give accounts of those experiences with talent, taste, and special emotion.

His heavy inclination towards the theatre arts was not satisfied. The difficult life transformations and the exhausting work left their marks. Dov was fortunate to be a father and cared for his children with great attention and devotion. “More than anything, the child needs a smile, a word of encouragement, and genuine love from the heart,” was among Dov's kind sayings.

Our years together were years of loyal friendship and deep emotional sharing, a path of striving and searching for the truth, for the beauty in daily life, particularly for self–education. In that field, Dov will serve as model and excellent example of a family man of perfection and harmony.

A few months prior to the war, Dov was fortunate to visit dear family members in the United States. Despite his happiness and joy at that opportunity to travel overseas, he could not remain there for more than a few weeks, as the yearning for his family and country overtook him; he returned to the country with renewed energy and dedication to go on. America's wonders had not charmed him. “All that I have seen – does not belong to us,” he said. He passionately explained the matter of Eretz Israel to his family members.

*

I could not write in his memory without detailing the man who lived a great virtuous life, befitting and eligible to enjoy all that is given in the Creator's world. I would not wish to remember how my dear Dov's life was taken. I will remember him alive, always alive, for he will live on in the hearts of many who knew him.


[Page 274]

Dov of Blessed Memory

Translated by Meir Bulman

(The first pioneer from Divenishok who made Aliyah on foot in 1911 during the holiday months.)

I knew R' Moshe the blacksmith from the dawn of my youth – those were the first days of Tel Aviv. At the center of the only neighborhood– Ahuzat Bayit – stood the proud Hebrew Gymnasium which looked like the form of the Mishkan [Ed. Note: the tabernacle was the portable sanctuary used by the Hebrews during their forty years of wandering following the Exodus] in the dessert. Around it, a few here and a few there, were small houses with red roofs, and beyond these lay an ocean of golden sand. Far beyond, within the sand dunes, a small black dot shined; it was Rabi Moshe's smithy, and from it were emitted and echoed the sounds of the hammer diligently hammering away at the anvil. It was the only smithy in small Tel Aviv, and R' Moshe's hands were always busy. The banisters on the roofs and balconies, as well as the fences and gates for the new homes popping up on the sands, were designed and created by R' Moshe the blacksmith.

He was quick in his work, and full of strength and energy. He was always rushing and he did not even have time to eat his meals calmly. He would swallow an entire loaf of bread in one meal – from end to end. On the scalding hot summer days, as he stood and perspired next to the bellows, he would drink a dozen soda bottles, one after the other, while molding the metal, “like clay in the hands of the potter” [Tr. Note: this is a reference to Jeremiah 18:6, a passage recited in the Yom Kippur prayers].

He was affectionate towards children and as he worked he would converse with us, the children. For us too it was an unforgettable experience to stand and watch the scalding iron sparks flying by Moshe's hands, who worked with it as he pleased.

He too had children of his own, but they were not with him in the country. He had no relatives in the country. He had two daughters abroad, as they were still too young, and he was planning to bring them over when the time came. But meanwhile, WWI broke out, and put to rest the dreams of so many.

As Turkey entered the war, Russian citizens were expelled from the land, and only those accepting Ottoman authority were permitted to remain. R' Moshe like tens of thousands did not leave and he accepted Ottoman citizenship, as few others did, but they were nevertheless exposed to the harms of the war: hunger, disease, wandering, expulsion, and harassments at the hands of a failing and hostile regime.

R' Moshe left his family behind in Russia, and wandered for three years from town to town, from country to country, to reach the Land. He had a holy mission: to hasten the arrival of the Messiah destined to appear soon in the Land of Israel. He whole–heartily maintained total faith, and he yearned to have that destiny. He always carried with him the Agadot [Tr. Talmudic legends] and Midrashim [Tr. similar legends not included in the Talmud] telling of the King–Messiah.

To his interlocutors he would say “Galut Yishmael” [Ed. Note: the Exile of Ishmael, according to Jewish Theology the final phase of the Exile of Edom which is the fourth and final exile before the arrival of the Messiah] is the final Galut [Ed. Note: exile], and the Geulah [Ed. Note: the final redemption] would follow it. To prove his point he used as sources the Agadot and the sayings of the sages.

I remember during one of his conversations with us, the children, he said, “Today I was with Mr. Blustein who is building two, two–story houses on Lilieinblum Street. He ordered a banister for the stairs. When I told him the price he said, “I agree, but do it well,” and he clenched his fist and added, “I want it to stand forever!'”

“And what did you say?” I asked.

“The Messiah will arrive before then.”

R' Moshe was a man of short stature, with a thick beard, a powerful physique, and tremendous muscles. He would allow us – the children – to feel his muscles, and we were surprised by their power. We saw him bending cast iron with his bare hands. With great passion we listened to his stories about wrestling various strongmen. That raised both our astonishment and our admiration. In our eyes he was a hero capped by a crown of victory.

When Turkey entered the war, R' Moshe was obligated to be inducted into military service and to serve his majesty, the Sultan. R' Moshe did not want that. “The Turk will not obtain my service in his military,” he would say, before escaping and evading. When the Turks allied with the Germans, he saw in that the fruition of the legendary combination of Edom and Ishmael – a clear sign of the quickly approaching Geulah. At every spot where Jews would gather and gravely ponder the serious situation, R' Moshe appeared with glee, in song and dance to the rhythm of כלה שעיר וחותנו [Tr. Note: “exterminate the hairy goat and his father–in–law”, a reference to the biblical Esau and Ishmael and a prayer recited on some days of Selichot].

After the NILI [Ed. Note: a ring of Jewish spies working for the British in World War I], events and the death of Sarah Aaronsohn [Ed. Note: a member of NILI who was captured and committed suicide while being held captive], of blessed memory, the situation took a turn for the worse. The Turkish regime conducted a widespread spy–hunt mission and R' Moshe fell prey. Dozens of other military deserters were also captured and they were marched on foot to Damascus, where he [R' Moshe] was imprisoned and accused of spying for the enemy. I do not know how long the Turkish imprisoned them all, but approximately a year after his capture, when I stood in an olive grove in Zikhron Yaakov [Ed. Note: place where Sarah Aaronsohn lived and was captured], I heard a voice calling my name. It was R' Moshe. He was broken hearted and his appearance was very pitiable. I did not enquire how he escaped – and why would that matter. His face was drooping and gaunt, like that of an ill person. He told me that more than half of the prisoners on the march to Damascus had passed away, and that he survived miraculously. He made the return journey from Damascus on foot. That happened a few days before the British entered the Land. I tried to cheer him up. “Feel my muscle,” he said and presented his arm to me. I felt his upper arm. He looked at me, pondered for a bit and said, “You see, it's like a rag now,” and sighed bitterly.

It was not an expression of grief due to his declining health and the loss of his bodily strength. There was much more to it though: a deep disappointment of the faith that had not come into fruition, a disappointment at the Messiah's stalled footsteps.

Who possesses stronger faith: the weak or the strong? It is said that the weak person is more faithful, because he cannot rely on anything but his faith. That is what happened to R' Moshe. After he was released from the prison in Damascus he did not recover his strength. He did reopen his smithy and even bought new tools, but the days of the strong R' Moshe Ben–Tzion Khasman, referred to by all of us as “Rabbi Moshe the blacksmith”, did not return.

Despite [Ed. Note: or because of] his suffering and his physical weakness, his faith in the eternity of the nation of Israel, and in the approaching Geulah had not decreased, he believed with every fiber of his being that the Geulah was indeed near.

Several years later I met him in the alleys of Jerusalem. He was wearing a long Bekishe [Ed. Note: a long black coat] and growing long Payot [Ed. Note: side locks of hair]. As things turned out he closed his shop and was devoting his time to studying Torah. His religious observance increased immeasurably. “We must repent and bring about the arrival of the Messiah,” he would say. He did not like the British but he did not lose his faith in the Messiah's arrival and would wait for him every day.

One of his final actions was buying a plot of land in Bnei Brak, near the Petah Tikvah Road, where he built a small house. He donated the house and the land to the institution that hospitalized him in his final months.

His death marked the departure of one of the most cherished of Jewish figures, one of those who were leaders among pioneers, those who lived for Mashiach and Netzach [Tr. Note: victory and/or eternity]. The grand enterprise of the State of Israel was established based on their faith, progress, dedication, and self–sacrifice.


[Page 276]

The Daughters Tell About Their Father
In memory of Moshe Khasman

Sarah Itskovitsh and Grunye Bronshtayn

Translated by Meir Bulman

The first time my father Moshe Khasman traveled to Eretz Israel was in 1902. He was attending the Volozhin Yeshiva, and along with a group of young men, left the Yeshiva and made a pilgrimage to Eretz Israel. He stayed there one year and then returned to Divenishok. In Divenishok, he established a family and had two daughters: my sister Grunye, and I. In 1909, my father decided to make Aliyah once more, but since he had no money he did it … on foot.

I arrived at the Land in 1923. At the time my father lived in Neve Shalom. His smithy stood where the Lieber Candy Factory now operates. My father was a very righteous man and gave charity to the needy, openly and מתן בסתר [Tr. Note: ‘Matan B'Seter’ is “When a person gives without knowing to whom he gives, and the recipient receives without knowing from whom he receives”; in the Talmud it is said this type of charity “delivers a man from an un–natural death.”(Baba Bathra 10a–b)].

I remember that occasionally he would close his workshop, go to the Arabs, buy food products, store them in the folds of his Bekishe [Ed. Note: a long coat], and go to one of the impoverished neighbors, saying, “Sirele, take these and prepare a meal for you and your children.” And then return with a clear conscience to the smithy.

My father was friendly with the Chazon Ish [Ed. Note: popular name given to Rabbi and author Avrohom Yeshaya Karelitz, (7 November 1878 – 24 October 1953)], and often visited him to study Torah and discuss current events. Occasionally my father would take me along for the visit. His wife would fry latkes for me – it was a great honor that only a few received.

During WWI, my father and his friend Y. Rebikov were exiled by the Turks to Egypt [Tr. Note: Egypt is the country named here but another account in this volume names his imprisonment as having occurred in Damascus], where he suffered greatly. He managed to escape the prison and hid with an Arab until the British entered the Land.

In the days of the British Mandate he brought my sister and I to the Land, and after we had married, father bought himself a yard in Bnei Brak and established the smithy there. He worked there for three years and then traveled to study Torah at HaRav Kook Yeshiva in Jerusalem. “I want to be intoxicated by the holy city's atmosphere,” he would say. He later returned to Bnei Brak and joined an old–folks home. Instead of an entrance fee he contributed the plot with the shop on it.

My father passed away in Bnei Brak, on 26 Shvat, 5736 [Tr. Note: 28 January 1976]. He was dedicated to the Zionist idea and passionately waited every day for the arrival of the Messiah. For that reason he would befriend the Khalutzim [Ed. Note: Zionist pioneers], despite their not being so observant.

He would invite Khalutzim to his home and give them food, and if they thanked him he would say: “Do not thank me, thank the Master of the Universe, he gave to me and gives to you.”

My father told me that Ben Gurion would visit him and sometimes dine with him.

He did his best to befriend and encourage the pioneers to stay in the Land, and his heart ached with every Jew that left. Every day he would pray: “Grant me the honor to see with my own eyes the arrival of the messiah.”

*

My father Moshe Ben–Zion Khasman was born in Divenishok in 1890. My father's relatives were men of labor and the blacksmith profession would pass from father to son for generations. My father too was a blacksmith. My mother Feige was from the Trovski family of distinguished lineage. She was the second daughter. The older son Isser made Aliyah with his family, and passed away in Jerusalem. Isser Trovski's son was a Rabbi, and passed away in Vishneva, Poland. My mother had another brother named Zechariah. He made Aliyah at an old age and passed away here [Ed. Note: in Israel]. He was survived by two sons and a daughter. The sons changed their name to Dorman. One of them was U.S. Consul to Thaliand, and another worked in the American embassy in Russia. My mother's sister, Devorah Blumenthal lives in Arad.

My father was a pupil at the Volozhin Yeshiva. He visited Israel as a young man. After he returned, he married my mother, who then died in Ivia, and was survived by two daughters: myself and Sarah. In his grief my father decided to leave town and make Aliyah, but because he had no money he decided to walk. The journey lasted two and a half years. The man would walk from town to town, work and earn a living, and go on. At night he would sneak on to a train – until he reached Odessa. There he boarded a ship as a kitchen assistant, but did not succeeded much in that work. The captain expelled him from the ship when they reached the shores of Turkey.

The way from Turkey to the Land was full of adventure and suffering. The roads swarmed with robbers, and once, while walking alone, robbers jumped him and stole all his money. Exhausted, broken down, and penniless, he arrived in the Land.

During his first days, he worked for a blacksmith, then, after he saved some money, he established his own shop and worked independently.

In Israel my father did not marry again, and distributed his profits to the poor and to those learning Torah. In the evenings he would spend his time learning Torah. After he brought his daughters to the Land, he left his work and devoted himself entirely to learning Torah.

My father took care of the daughters he had left in Divenishok and would often send us financial assistance. After my sister Sarah and I grew up he brought us to Israel.


[Page 278]

HaRav Ben–Zion Khasman

Eliahu Netaneli (Itskovitsh)

Translated by Meir Bulman

I was among the first members of the Third Aliya, which began in a tidal wave from Poland. In Eretz Israel I found an interesting figure from our town who had made Aliyah in 1911. His primary motivation to leave his family and make Aliyah was a love of the land. He wandered on foot from country to country, until he reached Eretz Israel via Iraq.

Even prior to the establishment of Ahuzat Bayit [Ed. Note: name of the settlement that eventually became Tel Aviv], he fearlessly established a smithy in the Jaffa sands. After some time, the area residents grew accustomed to him and provided him their business. He was the first blacksmith in Jaffa, and even the Arabs deeply admired him and brought him their business.

He would close the workshop early to go to the synagogue for prayer and Torah study. He was a deeply devout, religious man, and believed with every fiber in the coming of the Messiah and the Geulah [Ed. Note: period of ultimate redemption]. On Friday nights and holiday eves, he would cease work at 12, and Shabbat was entirely devoted to Torah study. He abstained from speaking on Shabbat. He would limit himself to a few words if necessary, and even then, he spoke only Hebrew.

The area Jews greatly respected him due to his knowledge of Torah wisdom, and would attend his classes on Talmud. They particularly revered him due to his honesty, righteousness, and his efforts to sustain himself with the fruits of his labor.

He studied Torah his whole life, and in old age he closed his shop and devoted the remainder of his life to Torah and Mitzvot. He studied a few years in the old city of Jerusalem, and later in Bnei Brak. He passed at a ripe old age, older than 80.


Sarah Disha Horvits: A Righteous Woman

Henye Harari

Translated by Meir Bulman

Sarah Disha was a valorous woman and labored greatly to provide for her family. After her sons Issac and Chaim Yudel emigrated to America and began sending money, her situation improved. She lived modestly, and a large portion of the money she received from her sons she gave to charity.

She knew of all the town's events, and showed an interest in all of them. She knew all the misfortuned people and would help them whole–heartedly. Be it Hachnasas Kallah [Tr. Note: bridal fund] or Bikur Holim [Ed. Note: extending aid to the sick], or just a man in need whose horse had fallen – Sarah Disha's hand was always charitably open.

I remember once, as children, we were sent to fundraise for Bikur Holim. We entered Sarah Disha's home. A woman of advanced age wearing a white kerchief on her head, she opened her knifl [Tr. Knot] with shy hands and give generously. With a smile always on her face, and bestowing her blessings, she gave encouragement to the public–needs volunteers.

She was a righteous woman and saw it as her duty to prepare for that crucial day. For that purpose, she prepared her own shroud. She would sew and try on her own shroud. I once saw her standing by the window wearing a shroud, and I was afraid and yelled out, “Mom, there's a woman in a shroud for the dead!” The next day we asked her what she was doing and she answered: “ אזוי איז עס קינדע אזוי איז דאס לעבן”, [Ed. Note: ‘azoy iz es, kinder, azoy iz dos lebn’] meaning, “That's how it is, children. That's life.”

Despite her old age she was always euphoric and affable. She was alert to everything happening in town. To her last day her mind was clear and to her last day she prayed morning and evening prayers, as was always her habit.


[Page 279]

Hirshl Krizovski

Shlomo Gordon

Translated by Meir Bulman

Tzvi Krizovski was my father's good friend and would often visit our home. In my memory I perceive him as one of the educated Jewish people of that time. This was the prototypical Jewish mind in a small Poland town: with no academic education, even basic – a man independently acquired, as an autodidact, universal knowledge in technical fields, arts, and medicine.

To this day, it is difficult to comprehend how he succeeded in building and repairing radio devices, without training, or a lab, or instruments. In his meetings with my father he strived to acquire knowledge in medicine. He was always thirsting for knowledge, always desiring to learn.

He had a natural talent for directing and he directed almost all of the town's plays. He was active in the library and enjoyed befriending youths – he was young at heart. He had no spiritual counterpart for the physical world, his focus in that regard was humanism and a recognition of nature's wonders.

He studied photography on his own and all the photos that survive from the town are due to his efforts. He produced 200 photos of Divenishok's people and their way of life and sent them to America, where a film about the town was prepared.

His father Kalmen Shepsl, the Torah instructor, was impoverished and cared for so many children that Tzvi was unable to acquire a proper education, which was unfortunate – if he had gotten that education, he would likely have become a great man.


[Page 280]

Tzvi (Hirshl) Krizovski

Khaye Rivke and Menukha Krizovski

Translated by Meir Bulman

My grandfather's name was Shepsl, and he was a Torah teacher for schoolchildren. My grandmother Roykl helped my grandfather provide for the family by working as a seamstress. They had ten children – only five of whom survived. The eldest daughter, Masha, passed away in America at the age of 90. The second one, Sheyne, was pretty and blonde, and from the age of 10 worked at a shoe factory in Vilne. There, she married university student Avram Moisevitsh.

In Vilne, Masha [Ed. Note: the name Masha is used in the original text, but the author is most likely referring to Sheyne] was involved in revolutionary activities, and in 1905 she was imprisoned at the Lokishki Prison in Vilne. The custom then was to whip political prisoners, literally – and that was done to her as well. Her health retreated beginning in 1917 when they crossed with the Red Army to Russia; from then on their whereabouts are unknown. They were likely imprisoned and passed away in a Russian prison.

Arye Yaakov was a poet born in 1892, and passed away in New York. The fourth son was Motl, and he too travelled to America and passed away there. He worked as a tailor. The youngest child was Tzvi – our father.

 

Our father's life and public works

Because of the poverty and deficiencies at home, at the early age of 12, he had to travel to Vilne to find work. He made a living selling newspapers. He did not have a place to sleep – during the summer he slept on stairs, and in the winter with charitable people. He suffered and lived impoverished like that for several years, and then returned to Divenishok. At the age of 19, he married with my mother Mikleh of the house Gomnits from Ivia – and did not leave the town since.

My father was a very diligent and a man of unusual talents. He had many professions, all of which he learned on his own. At first he was an electrician, but because the town was small and he could not provide with that profession, then he studied photography. He was the only photographer in Divenishok and all surviving photos are the fruit of his labor. With the dawn of the age of radio, he taught himself the profession of radio–technician and was successful at that too.

He very much liked agriculture and devoted much of his time to growing vegetables in the large garden behind our home. In the days of the Poles, he even got an award for beet growing.

In the 30's, with the financial situation of Jewish residents deteriorating, Yakkofu [Ed. Note: an aid organization for Polish Jews] recommended to Jews living in towns with land, that they plant quality fruit trees so that in later days they would have a decent income. The Yakkofu people brought quality seeds to Divenishok too, and the town Jews planted them. My father was enthusiastic about the idea, planted fruit trees all over the garden, lovingly cared for them, and had unusual success. Three years later they bore excellent fruit that brought us substantial income.

The financial suffering that my father experienced from the dawn of his youth, and his pain over the lack of proper educational and other information–acquiring opportunities, created in his soul a begrudging bitterness for the political and social regime in the state, and he deeply longed for a replacement of the state political regime. His worldview was Socialist. The town folks called him “Hirshl the Bolshevik.” They also called him “the Messiah,” because once, while making a speech, he expressed, “when the Russians arrive, the messiah for the Jews will arrive.”

Truthfully, he was more of a Yiddishist [Ed. Note: a political party that sought Jewish national autonomy within the Diaspora] than a communist, a zealot for Yiddish language and literature, who treated Jewish tradition with respect. The fact is that on Passover he would always have a Seder, and would go to the synagogue on the high holidays.

My father would organize all the dramaticals in town. He would choose the play, direct, and provide makeup. At times he also played a lead role. He was the driving force of the Yiddishists' cultural activity in town. He was a member of the VILBIG [Ed. Note: (“Vilner Yidishe Bildung Gezelshaft”; Vilne Jewish Educational Society] library committee. Not a single important event took place in town without my father's attendance.

My father was interested in medicine as well, and attained most of his knowledge from Gordon the פעלטשער [Ed. Note: ‘feltsher’ an uncertified healer]. He successfully administered injections, and 'אנקעס [Ed. Note: ‘bonkes’] (cupping therapy). He often contributed short articles to פאלקסגעזונט , [Ed. Note: ‘Folksgezunt’, literally, the people's health] a weekly publication published in Vilne, edited by the famous Dr. Tsemekh Shabad. When one of the neighbors became ill they would first consult with Hirshl.

With the entrance of the Russians, my father was chosen as סובייט–פרעדסיאטעל של הסיעל (town council chairman) [Ed. Note: ‘predsiatel shel khsiel–soveyt’], and did his best to assist the town residents.

 

Rescue of the Leybman family

The Leybmans left Divenishok in the late 20's and settled in Smorgon, where they had a steel products store. When the Russians arrived, they feared remaining in Smorgon, and so they moved to Divenishok. They rented half an apartment with the “ פעלטשער רצקו ” [Ed. Note: Raszko the Feltsher', see above] family on Oshmene Street. In the second half of the apartment lived the feltsher's daughter, Yadzha.

Yadzha was a prostitute and contacted a band of thieves to kill the Leybmans and rob all their belongings. The custom at the time was that one person from every home would go for night security patrol at the Khsiel–Soveyt building. She scheduled the robbery for the night she had guard duty to create an alibi.

It was a large and organized gang of robbers and they truly intended to carry out their plot.

A farmer from the Krakon village who was a member of that gang, wanted to repent, and so one night he knocked on our door. When Father opened the window and saw a bearded man, poorly dressed, with bloodshot eyes, he was intimidated by him and wanted to shut the window. The man urged him to hear him out: “I came to inform you of an issue with great importance,” he said; “I truly am a thief, but I want to repent. I have pity on my wife and children, so I came to inform you of my gang and the plot they plan to carry out tonight at three… I want to repent and ask forgiveness for my bad deeds.” (He had once robbed and murdered a priest on the road). My mother was very frightened, but my father convinced her that action must be taken immediately: “I think the farmer is telling the truth,” he told my mother. He let the farmer into our home and went out to rescue the Leybmans.

My father gathered a few police officers and NKVD officials, who happened to be in town recruiting soldiers to the military, entered the Leybman home and waited. Precisely at three o'clock the door was opened and the head of the gang entered with a loaded gun in his right hand, and a flashlight in his left. My father shot at him and he shot at my father–– the bullet whisked right by Father's ear. When the rest of the robbers saw their leader was injured they ran towards the woods, where an escape carriage awaited them. The next day the injured robber was found in the woods and taken to the hospital, where he later died.

The thief who informed Father had informed on the entire gang, and all of them, about 40, were captured and tried in a large public trial in Baranovich. To be clear, the Soviets were not hesitant to sentence them to many years in prison.

The Leybman family included an old father, his wife, and a daughter and her husband with a five–year–old girl. According to the plan, the old man, his wife, and the little girl were to have been bound in rope and imprisoned, while the daughter and husband were to have been murdered. Among those sentenced to a long imprisonment was Yadzha, who had been the architect of the conspiracy.

 

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