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[Page 312]

They Were So[1]

Binyamin Dubinski

Translated by Meir Bulman

A flame of love blazed in their heart
and by that flame to the loathers of Israel
the sanctity of the Nation they did impart.

Rabbi Yosef Rudnik ZTL[2]

Our town Divenishok was a small town, but a unique aura was draped over it. Its white homes stood atop a tall hill and it was surrounded by pine forests that gave off an enchanting, intoxicating scent.

Life flowed peacefully in that small town, like the crystal–clear river that flowed slowly at the outskirts of town. Day after day went by without change, shakeup, or renewal.

Suddenly, an event took place that shook the town: Rabbi Movshovitsh left town and traveled to the United States, and then many candidates for service in that elevated position arrived in Divenishok. After a tumultuous period of debates, the great Rabbi Yosef Rudnik was chosen as chief town rabbi. To this very day I remember his first appearance: tall, handsome, with a radiant face, his beard magnificently constructed, and his blue eyes projecting warmth and love. It is therefore unsurprising that he won over hearts at first sight. The folks convened an excited greeting ceremony in the suburbs of the town and then accompanied him to his new home with great respect.

A few days went by before the rabbi appeared at the school. There, he examined the students and invited the talented among them to the Talmud classes he would conduct at the synagogue. The rabbi's Talmud lessons were an unforgettable experience; with stories, allegories, and songs he would captivate students on the Talmudic topic at hand. His listeners were elevated to a spiritual world, a world of legend and imagination.

The rabbi labored tirelessly to instill the spirit of the Torah and awareness of the national Zionist ideal among the town youth. With a fatherly, yet closely inspecting, eye he accompanied the footsteps of every youngster in town, and was very happy when he would succeed and manage to send a young man to the famous Radin Yeshiva that was not far from our town. Due to his influence, I too spent a few years in Radin. He was especially proud of his two prodigies, Yeshayahu Moshe Katz and Khaykl Itskovitsh, who studied at Radin for many years. Excelling in their talent and their far–reaching knowledge of the Mishnah and Talmud, they were candidates for rabbinical ordination.

He was not just a man of great words but also a man of great action, and so he sent his son Avraham to Radin as well, where he studied for many years and achieved much knowledge of Talmud and Poskim.

Yeshayahu Moshe Katz and Khaykl Itskovitsh perished in the Diaspora, but the son of the rabbi, Avraham, is with us in Israel. He participated in the war of independence and now devotes his time to educating the younger generation. Rabbi Yosef Rudnik passed away at the height of his energy and public work, still with many plans in the works. His death caused heavy mourning in town and the surrounding area; all the rabbis from the nearby towns came to eulogize him: Rabbi Rabinowitz from Lida, Rabbi Rozovski form Eshishuk, Rabbi Perlman from Ivia, Rabbi Shmuelzon from Oshmene, Rabbi Shub from Traby, the two rabbis from Voronova, Rabbi Fayn from Bilitza, and Rabbi Eliezer Kaplan – one of the rabbis at the Radin Yeshiva.

Rabbi Yosef Rudnik was busy with various works of public activism. He was active at many religious institutions in the Vilne district and surrounding area and bestowed upon them his good spirit. He was beloved as a rabbi by the town's population. He was not only a spiritual leader, but also a devoted father to his tribe. His door was always open to all those with aching hearts or low sprits. He reserved spiritual assistance for each one of them and in times of need he gave also material aid. Rabbi Yosef Rudnik served as Divenishok's Chief Rabbi from 1925 to 1933.

We mourn for those lost and not forgotten.

 

Editor's Footnotes:
  1. This essay, written by Mr. Binyamin Dubinski is comprised of an informative overview of dozens of Divenishok figures from the rabbis to the common folks. Return
  2. Zekher Ttzadik Livrakha: ‘May the Memory of the Righteous Be a Blessing’ Return

[Page 313]

Avraham Abir (Rudnik)

Translated by Atara Mayer

Rabbi Yosef Rudnik's amazing character was most noted for its radiance, not just his love for Am Yisrael[1], but also his constant zeal and soulful thirst for the learning of Torah. During one of his small talks he told about the days of his childhood when he studied in the Volozhin Yeshiva, and how once in Vilne he had stood for many hours by the storefront window of a bookstore, reading the titles and authors of the books he saw, yearning to read these books but being unable to acquire them.

The Rabbi passed on this zeal to his young students continuously and steadfastly, stemming from his affection and love for them. In order to serve as a personal example for the youth, the Rabbi included his son, Avraham, in the group of students who studied the Talmud. Avraham was also one of the first students that the Rabbi sent to learn in Ohel Torah Yeshiva in Baranovich, which was headed by Y. Wasserman,[2] who was known as a great pedagogue imparting Talmudic foundations to yeshiva students. Afterward, Avraham continued his studies at the Chofetz Chaim Yeshiva in Radin, and was ordained as a rabbi by Rabbi Pilovski, member of the Rabbinical Council of Vilne.

In order to combine Torah and Science, Avraham matriculated at the high school in Vilne, completing his studies entirely in Polish, and then moved to Israel in 1937, where he was accepted as a full–time student at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.[3] Simultaneously, he was accepted as a student at the Mizrahi School for teachers in Jerusalem, which he successfully completed.

Following his training, he worked as teacher at the Bilu State Religious School in Tel Aviv.

During World War II, he enlisted on behalf of the Jewish Agency to the Nutras[4], and guarded the territory's beaches while doing his best to assist in the transfer of immigrants to Israel.

When the War of Independence broke out he enlisted with the Israel Defense Forces and participated in many bitter battles against the enemy. Following the war he founded the Hemed Settlement along with other religious war veterans and there he ran the local religious school for the settlements.

The chain of Torah scholars in this family continues. Avraham's son, who was named for his grandfather Yosef, devotes himself to Torah study at a yeshiva in Jerusalem. The son of Rabbi Yosef Rudnik's daughter Breyne, Yosef Aloni, who was also named for his grandfather, is among the significant scientists at the Weizman Institute in Rehovot.

 

Footnotes
  1. Tr. Note: The People of Israel Return
  2. Ed. Note: aka Elchonen Wasserman Return
  3. Ed. note: in 1937, before the formation of Israel, the area was still called Palestine Return
  4. Tr. Note: Jewish Guards Return

[Page 314]

Rabbi Aharon Tayts

Translated by Atara Mayer

Rabbi Aharon Tayts, who was appointed as rabbi following the death of his stepfather, Yosef Rudnik, was blessed with several relatively rare basic qualities. Rabbi Aharon Tayts was exalted. His appearance was characterized by nobility and peace of mind. His basic knowledge of Shas[1] and scholarly commentary, and his secular education, were vast. His emotional identification with the tradition and the spiritual experience of the Jewish heritage prepared him for the responsibility of being the rabbi of our town.

A love of Torah and Science were embedded in his personality. Once he acquired basic knowledge in the Mishnah and the Talmud, he made his way to Vilne, the city of Lithuania, aiming to acquire wisdom and knowledge. Following a relatively short period he completed his studies in the “Mizrachi[2] Seminar and the Hebrew Gymnasium[3] in Vilne, and continued on to study at the “Hildesheimer” Rabbinical Seminary in Berlin.

When the director of the seminary learned that he was a descendent of a rabbinical family, he asked Aharon if he would consent to be tested on a challenging issue in the Talmud. “Certainly,” replied Aharon without hesitation. “What if I test you on the Zevachim tractate?” challenged the director.[4] “You may also test me on the Zevachim tractate,” answered Aharon, even though that is the most difficult of the tractates. And so the director tested Aharon on the Zevachim tractate and marveled at his knowledge and proficiency.

Aharon's stay in Berlin was very short; the German atmosphere of the institution felt at odds with the moral values of Rabbi Yisroyl Salanter.[5] Aharon returned home and departed from there to the Chofetz Chaim Yeshiva in Radin, where he was ordained a rabbi.

His status in the yeshiva was highly respected and was regarded with respect and admiration, though he was humble and not arrogant. He was extremely helpful to all the young persons of Divenishok who studied in Radin. He concerned himself with their welfare, their financial situation, and, most of all, their progress in Talmud and moral doctrines. Among those he cultivated were Khaykl Itskovitsh and Yeshayahu–Moshe Katz, from whom he expected greatness. I am not ashamed to admit that he also shaped my personality and that I saw him as a symbol of morality and Torah wholeness.

After he was appointed as the rabbi of our city he managed to gain the trust of the people of the city and the Polish aristocracy through his noble appearance, his pleasant speech, and his fluent Polish.

In the late 1930's, after Hitler gained power, anti–Semitism in Poland reared its head and the Jews suffered economically and politically. Rabbi Aharon Tayts stood steadfast like a lion and fought every appearance of anti–Semitism, and struggled for the rights of every Jew. His impressive appearance and his glowing visage, his judgement, his fluent conversation, his pleasantness, and his good spirits captured the heart of the Oshmene Strostev (local ruler[6]) and, consequently, several severe restrictions were lifted. The heavy taxes imposed on the Jews in Poland were also reduced.

When the Soviets arrived in the town, the Rabbi was forced to leave and he crossed the border into Vilne with his wife and children.

In Vilne, he lived in great distress, like all the refugees who arrived in droves. He searched for a way to go to Israel, but he was not so lucky and he perished along with his family in Ponary, Vilne.[7]

 

Footnotes
  1. Tr. Note: another name for the Mishnah Return
  2. Ed. Note: Mizrachi refers to a religious/Zionist organization founded in Vilne in about 1902 by Rabbi Yitzach Yaacov Reines Return
  3. Ed. Note: a gymnasium is a pre-university school Return
  4. Ed. Note: the Zevachim tractate is a section of the Talmud that focuses on various types of animal offerings in the Holy Temple Return
  5. Ed. Note: Rabbi Salanter is one of the founders of Musar Movement, a school of Orthodox Judaism that emphasizes moralistic thinking and ethical conduct Return
  6. Ed. Note: of Oshmene Return
  7. Ed. Note: Ponary was an area on the outskirts of Vilne where many thousands of Jews were massacred and buried in mass graves by German Nazis and their Lithuanian henchmen Return

[Page 315]

Rabbi Chaim Yudl Horvits

Translated by Atara Mayer

Rabbi Chaim Yudl Horvits was one of the original and most interesting characters in the American landscape. A member of this remote little town, Rabbi Horvits was selected to the respected position of “Secretary of Kashrut[1] Inspectors” on behalf of the Jews in New York and the surrounding areas. Rabbi Horvits was appointed to oversee thousands of kashrut supervisors and was responsible for tens of thousands of establishments, butcher shops, and food–producing factories. Any establishment under Rabbi Chaim Yudl Horvits' supervision undergoes a kashrut inspection, which rewards its founders with the letter U, a widely accepted kosher symbol. Products branded with the letter U were accepted by the Jews and by the Christians, who were also interested in clean, fresh, quality merchandise. The Rabbi is a popular and highly respected character in New York City, and many respected and important people sought his proximity.

Rabbi Horvits was endowed with many virtues: he was intelligent, clever, pleasant, and popular in his community; his knowledge of Torah and wisdom about Israel was vast; his words were spiced with writings of Chazal[2] which capture the ear and delight the heart. Rabbi Chaim Yudl had a warm, Jewish heart; his whole spirit is tied to his past, particularly to his childhood, which he spent in his hometown. For these reasons, he was a dedicated member of “Relief,” which is considered one of the town's main pillars and main facilitators. As long as the town existed, Chaim Yudl's home was the main address for the heads of the town in times of distress and adversity for they found in him generosity and a listening ear.

Rabbi Chaim Yudl was, naturally, a public figure and a man of action. His extensive public activity he saw as an important task and a mission in life, and he was devoted to it with his entire soul. The Rabbi's contribution to fundraising for the United Appeal was particularly notable. In recognition of his actions and efforts the Jewish National Fund planted a forest in his name.

 

Translator's Footnotes
  1. referring to kosher dietary laws Return
  2. articles by Hebrew Sages Return

[Page 316]

Avraham Noakh Shlomovitsh,
the Town's Shohet
[1]

Translated by Atara Mayer

Avraham Noakh Shlomovitsh, or as he was known in the town, Avraham Noakh the Shohet, was an interestingly unique character. His image was a wonderful blend of scholarship and action. He took care of public affairs and was also active in addressing individual needs.

In our town, it was customary for people to venture to the market on Thursdays to purchase a calf or a lamb for the Sabbath, and then to invite the Shohet to slaughter and kasher[2] the meat for the duration of the week. Under these circumstances Avraham Noakh tended to visit most of the people in the town and was, therefore, well–aware of their joys and sorrows. He always lent an ear to those who needed someone to listen and to every aching heart, and he tried to help, to condole, and to encourage with his advice and actions to the best of his ability.

It was customary in our town for the Shohet to take the spleen of any large animal.[3] It should be noted that the spleen never ended up on the shohet's table; there was always a needy Jew who would receive it as a secret gift.

Avraham Noakh was an expert in his field, both in preparation of the knife used for slaughtering and in the slaughtering itself. The butchers were surprised at his efficiency and professional skill. He never once caused a Terifa.[4] He was also a very talented mohel[5] and was proud that all of the youth in the town were his sons, since it was by his hand that they had entered into the covenant of Avraham our Forefather.

His whole life he blew the shofar[6] in the new synagogue. To carry out this sacred task he prepared himself with great care and compassion. On Rosh Hashanah[7] when Avraham Noakh ascended the stage dressed in white and as his pleasant voice rang out with the verse “min hametzar karati yah”,[8] a deathly silence descended upon the synagogue, and the congregation was mute, tense, and full of anticipation for this sacred moment. The sounds of the shofar poured and rolled through the synagogue and the congregation stood in awe.

Avraham Noakh participated in all public affairs in the town. He was a member of the school committee where his four children were educated, he was gabbai[9] in the new synagogue, a dedicated member of the Jewish National Fund Committee, an active member of Mizrachi,[10] and together with Eliahu, he distributed funds for the movement.

In the days of Mrs. Prystor,[11] when Poland banned Kosher slaughter for supposedly humanitarian reasons, Avrahm Noakh traveled to Bialystok, where he studied the process of nikkur.[12] He studied the technique even though it was very costly, all to overcome the meat shortage in town.[13]

Avraham Noakh married Menya Bertonovsky, whose father was one of the most respected men in the town. His mother in–law, Reyzl Bertonovsky, was a wise and virtual woman, who gave charity both openly and quietly, and warmly welcomed every guest and neighbor. His in–laws' house was a warm, pleasant home, always filled with guests, young and old. Teachers who worked in the school and lived outside the town always stayed with Reyzl Bertonovsky.

Avraham Noakh was not lucky in life. His wife, Menya, contracted a malignant disease. She lay on her deathbed for a few years and passed away in her prime. He and his sons died in Voronova, together with all the martyrs of Divenishok.

Avraham Noakh the Shohet was originally from the town of Bilitza. Rabbi Yosef Rudnick ZT”L[14] served as the rabbi of this town before he was appointed as the rabbi of Divenishok.

Avraham Noakh's father, Rabbi Shlomo Shlomovitsh, was God–fearing and exalted in Torah, merciful and revered. His mother, Sheyna Reyzl Z”L, was a God–fearing woman of virtue, who tried to keep her husband from being interrupted while he learned Torah. Rabbi Shlomo and Sheyna Raisel, his wife, had two sons and two daughters. The eldest son, Rabbi Dov Tzvi, was a shohet in Divenishok, and following World War I he emigrated to the United States. His younger brother, Rabbi Avraham Noakh, took over as shohet of the town in his stead, until it was annihilated by the Nazis and their accomplices.

May his soul be bound in the bundle of life.

 

Footnotes
  1. Tr. Note: a slaughterer of certain mammals and birds for food according to Jewish dietary laws Return
  2. Tr. Note: to make kosher Return
  3. Ed. note: the Hebrew word used here is ‘gas’ and is believed to be short for ‘behema gassah’ which means ‘large mammal’ Return
  4. Tr. Note: injuring an animal, which disqualifies the animal from being considered kosher Return
  5. Tr. Note: circumciser Return
  6. Tr. Note: a musical instrument made of a ram's horn Return
  7. Tr. Note: the Jewish New Year Return
  8. Tr. Note: “from the depths I called to you” Return
  9. Tr. Note: a person who manages the affairs of the synagogue Return
  10. Ed. Note: Mizrachi refers to a religious/Zionist organization and movement founded in Vilne in about 1902 by Rabbi Yitzach Yaacov Reines Return
  11. Ed. Note: Mrs. Janina Prystor was the wife of the President of the Polish Senate who sponsored the 1936 Kosher slaughter ban and one of its chief proponents Return
  12. Ed. Note: “deveining”; the process of removing forbidden veins and fats from cattle thereby rendering more of the beef kosher than would be under normal koshering processes Return
  13. Ed. Note: The 1936 Polish ban on Kosher slaughter permitted meat to be kosher–slaughtered only in districts composed of 3% or more Jewish population, and only for purposes of consumption by that population. Most of the kosher–slaughtered cattle is forbidden to Jews because it contains too many veins and fats. Normally that would not be an issue where sale of the remaining meat to gentiles was permitted, but without the gentile market to buy the uncertified meat, Kosher slaughtering would be too costly. Avraham Noakh's newly acquired deveining skills would allow for more of the slaughtered animal to be certified as Kosher. Return
  14. Tr. Note: may the memory of the righteous be blessed Return

[Page 317]

Arye Leyb Rogol
the dedicated, loyal Zionist

Translated by Atara Mayer

Arye Leyb Rogol, a remarkable figure in our town, dedicated his life to realizing the Zionist idea. As a child he absorbed the Zionist atmosphere in his parents' home and decided to dedicate his life to this goal.

Arye Leyb was one of the first members of the town who answered Moshe Lilienbloom's call to join the Hibbat Zion movement, and was involved in fundraising on behalf of the first settlements in Israel.

With the declaration of Herzl's political Zionism, he worked to spread the teachings of the state's visionary. Rogol was among the first shareholders of the “Anglo–Palestine Bank”. He conducted Zionist activity in the town since the establishment of the Zionist movement. He distributed shekels to all the Zionist congresses and was the first to buy shekels. His house was used as a meeting place for the sages, where Zionist townspeople gathered to read “Hatzfira” and to coordinate Zionist activity.

From the First Zionist Congress he was the Zionist Movement's representative in our town, and with the foundation of the JNF [Ed. Note: Jewish National Fund], he became the authorized representative in town and worked intensively collecting funds for the Jewish National Fund.

During the First World War, from 1914 to 1919, when hunger spread in the town, Arye–Leyb organized aid for the needy. He was selected as the delegate from our town to the first regional conference of “Yaakofu” [Ed. Note: an aid organization for Polish Jews] which took place in Vilne on the 8th and 9th of September, 1919, and which discussed the necessary assistance to the towns suffering from starvation.

With the establishment of a Polish government in the town, Arye–Leyb committed himself even more to Zionist work and to the beloved inhabitants of Divenishok. He particularly devoted himself to the activities of the JNF and served as the head of the National Fund until he fell ill.

Polish authorities regarded the “Hashomer Hatza'ir” as “communists for export” and demanded a guarantee from the leaders of the Jewish community not to engage in hostile action against the State. Arye–Leyb Rogol, who owned the only pharmacy in town and was involved with and accepted by the Polish intelligentsia, signed a guarantee for the activities of “Hashomer Hatza'ir” and “HeKhalutz”, thereby enabling their regular activities.

I will never forget the scene in the late 1920's when we, 14 and 15 year old youths, sat in the new synagogue's women section and drank in Arye Leyb's fiery words about Zionism and the revival of the Jewish State, which was the order of the day. He was already dangerously ill. His hands shook but his voice boomed and his face reddened; he infected us with his Zionist zeal and urged us to take on Zionist activity.

His only wish was to emigrate to Israel with his family and to fulfill this goal, he sent his daughter Shulamit as a pioneer to the Israel, and he was deeply disappointed when his daughter returned from Israel. He hid his pain in public, but continued to plan to emigrate to Israel with his family.

After a fire broke out in his pharmacy and his house went up in flames, he fell ill and did not recover until he was brutally murdered by the Germans in the Voronova Ghetto.

He was one of the rare figures in the landscape of the town, a man who had educated several generations for Zionism and the building of the country, and thanks to him, many young people who survived heard his call and emigrated to Israel.

A malicious hand cut the thread of his life and the murderers of our people will suffer the curse of God.

May his soul be bound in the bundle of life.

[Page 319]

Herman Fuchs Z”l

Translated by Meir Bulman

(Remarks delivered at the unveiling of the monument in the Ben Shemen Forest in memory of Herman Fuchs and his daughter Lilly, who perished in the Lida Ghetto.)

At this moment we are secluded with two pure souls; that of Herman husband of Shulamit and the soul of her daughter Lilly who were executed – their one and only crime: being Jews.

With these two pure souls, rising from the depths are the souls of all our brethren and loved ones from our town Divenishok, with whom we were raised, ate from their bread, and from which we inherited the courage to stand guard and fight for our national and religious uniqueness.

Our heart aches as their bodies were cast in a long line in the trenches of the valley of the slaughter, their eyes reflecting death, and they are forever silenced.

This gentle Shulamit, daughter of R' Arye Leib Rogol, shattered and broken by the big tragedy that befell her, but still of sound mind and spirit, decided to avenge the blood of the innocent that was shed. Shulamit adopted the way of the slingshot with all her might, and with her brother Zelig, she took to the woods of Lipnishok to avenge the blood of the martyrs. She used her pain, unparalleled by any other pain, and cast it into firm metal and steel bullets, and struck the enemy with the vengeance of a pained mother.

After her Aliyah to the homeland, she was resolute in her decision to establish a monument for her loved ones. And indeed, here we are today, participating in the tree planting ceremony in honor of her husband and daughter.

May this monument be a torch for the saints of our town and a living and damning testimony of an apathetic world that stood idly by in the face of the horror.

[Page 320]

Natan Itskovitsh

Translated by Meir Bulman

(a brief biography and his public works)

Natan was gifted with many qualities that define a public activist. He had a fine presence, a pleasant smile always on his lips, and his big eyes projecting love and care –– won over the hearts of his peers. He was a man of conversation; his stories and witty jokes and sayings touched the heart of every person, for they encompassed in them the flavor of life.

Natan Itskovitsh, or “Natan der Schneider” as he was nicknamed in town, was considered one of the most important town leaders, and not a small or large matter went by without his knowledge. He was the only Jewish “Lvnik” in the Gmina (representative in the town council). He was also among the founders of the Hebrew school and one of its main operators, and he did his best to instill in his students a love for the Jewish tradition and the national and Zionist ideals. Natan was among the administrators of the New Synagogue, ensuring its maintenance and pleasant aesthetic. As was customary in the towns of Poland, important public matters were decided on Shabbat by delaying the recitation of the Torah. At times deep differences of opinion arose in this public and deliberations were lengthy and exhausting. Tensions were high and it seemed matters would never reach a conclusion. Itskovitsh would then ascend to the stage and say, “Gentlemen, we have heard differing opinions, but in my humble opinion (לויט מיין נארישן שכל)[1] this and that solves the matter.” And what a sight! Silence overtook the crowd and Natan's opinion was accepted by all.

Natan was full of a passionate Zionist spirit and sponsored the Zionist organizations in town: he nourished, encouraged, and assisted them nonstop with words and funds. He lived up to his principles; his eldest son, Eliahu was among the founders of HaKhalutz[2] in town, and among the first to make Aliyah. Eliahu Itskovitsh departed from a wealthy and warm home, preferring to work the roads and groves. He suffered from malaria, and hunger more than once, but he swore to build the land so that his wish might come true: the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz Israel. His father's inspiring spirituality is what guided him on that difficult path.

Natan was not satisfied by only his son being in Israel and a few years later sent his daughter Bilkhe to Eretz Israel. He himself planned to make Aliyah, but fate dictated otherwise.

Natan, who was tolerant in religious matters, had a deep attachment to the Torah and Jewish tradition, and so he also served as a role model for others. He sent his son Khaykl to study at the Baranovich Yeshiva, which was administered by the esteemed rabbi and pedagogue Wasserman, and later to the Chofetz Chaim Yeshiva in Radin. His youngest son, Meir Yosef, was sent to the Tarbut seminary in Vilne, where he was licensed as a teacher at the Tarbut schools, known for their high levels in the subjects of Judaism and Hebrew. His son Meir Yosef was among the founders and leaders of the Betar[3] movement in town. At that time, frictions erupted between Betar and HaShomer HaTzair[4] about who would have the privilege to conduct meetings in the school building. Natan, who was gifted with a sharp mind and life–wisdom, effectively mediated between Betar, where his son was among its leaders, and HaShomer HaTzair, in which his daughter Bilkhe was a member. He would pacify, mediate, and ensure that all went smoothly between the organizations.

Natan Itskovitsh had a sewing workshop (טאנדעט).[5] He was busy with work: measuring, cutting, and preparing the fabrics for the worker–sewers, but he was very attentive to all that happened in town. His home was always filled with people who came to request aid from a place where they knew would never disappoint them. Natan was ready for them, his mouth producing a smile, or encouragement, or a joke to alleviate the pain. When needed he also took off the measuring tape from his neck and the work robe from his body, running to fulfill the mitzvah of “If thy brother be waxen poor and fallen in decay with thee then thou shalt relieve him”. The drive to assist his fellow man was engraved deep within his blood. He never exhibited signs of being tired by public activity. He was always smiling and lively, always willing to assist.

Natan Itskovitsh was also a member in the administration of bank and the Gemilut Hasadim,[6] and always ensured that the merchants (בעלי עגלות)[7] who traveled on Saturday nights to the villages to purchase produce would have at least the minimum funds needed for that purpose.

It is therefore unsurprising that Natan was the most popular and beloved man in town.

Natan was also the Rabbi's confidant. Natan, Ben–Zion Schneider, Shalom Yakov Shkolnik, and Natan Kaplan were those who along with the Rabbi made decisions on all public matters.

It is also worthwhile to mention that Natan possessed a unique mentality, swift assessment capabilities, an ability to adapt to special circumstances, experiential knowledge unattainable by mere studying, and a phenomenal memory which enabled him to remember the sum of the issues confronting him, without needing any type of note–taking. His son Eliahu's words are true: “My father was gifted in rare qualities of leadership, was sharp minded, and sharp witted. If he had studied, he would undoubtedly have become a brilliant lawyer.”

Our hearts are filled with grief because one of our town's beloved activists, who devoted a large portion of his life to the public without reward – found his death together with all the Divenishok martyrs in the slaughter conducted by the Nazis in Voronova.

תנצב”ה[8]

 

Editor's Footnotes
  1. Loyt meyn narishn shkhl; literally: according to my foolish understanding Return
  2. A Zionist youth movement Return
  3. A right–wing leaning Zionist youth movement Return
  4. ‘The Young Guard’; Zionist youth movement, emphasizing scouting and kibbutz–living Return
  5. ‘tandem’, use of this word is unclear, could mean jerry–built, second–rate or simply old clothes Return
  6. a charitable fund for the needy Return
  7. ‘beli eglut’: cart owners Return
  8. epitaph meaning: May his soul be bound in the bundle of life Return

[Page 321]

Khaykl Itskovitsh: Rabbinical Scholar

Translated by Meir Bulman

One of the wondrous young men in town possessing great qualities was Khaykl Itskovitsh. While the youth of the town were persuing a general education, Natan Itskovitsh's son chose the Chofetz Chaim Yeshiva in Radin.

Khaykl spent the majority of his young and flourishing life in Radin, dedicating himself to Torah and Musar with his entire passionate being. The study of Torah was at the center of his desires; he wished for the passion to study Talmud and Poskim.

Because of his qualities and his knowledge of Talmud he acquired a great reputation and was on track to be ordained as a rabbi. He did not achieve that due to the political upheaval at that time. The Soviets invaded Radin and put an end to the prestigious Yeshiva. Its administrators were imprisoned and exiled to Siberia.

Khaykl was the crowning glory of his family, and thanks to him a traditional religious spirit was maintained in the household. At home, he strictly observed all the Mitzvot,[1] be they large or small, and led the ceremonial religious procedures. To his last day he remained loyal to his path, and even when under German control, when hunger struck home, he did not give up an inch in his observance of Kashrut.[2]

Khaykl believed his path was the correct one to take in life and he devoted much effort to garner support for the ideals he championed. He was always cheerful and smiling. That is how young and lively Khaykl was, a flourishing tree in the bud, predicted to have a great future, but severed by the Nazi beast.

 

Editor's Footnotes
  1. Jewish religious commandments Return
  2. Jewish dietary laws Return

[Page 323]

Munye the Tailor
(Munye Kherson)

Translated by Atara Mayer

One of the most interesting and prominent characters in the town was Munye Kherson. Munye was attractive and well-mannered and he was endowed with a pleasant voice and an affinity for song and prayer. For many years Munye served as the primary cantor in the new Beit Midrash.[1] He was the cantor who led the Musaf[2] services on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The sounds of his beautiful voice still echo in the hearts of our townspeople and awaken a longing for this cherished character.

When Munye began the prayer “hineni he'ani mima'as[3] with a sob in his voice and the cries escaped his heart, the entire congregation trembled with fear of this holy and terrible day, and all hearts were open to this prayer of mercy and gratitude.

The congregation reached an enthusiastic climax when Munye declared “unetaneh tokef kedushat hayom”.[4] Then, all dams would break and a burst of tears and moans filled the synagogue as the restrained sounds of weeping echoed from the women's section.

Today, only ruins cry out to the heavens, and instead of prayers, deep moans and the sound of deafening sobs emanate from the weeping bricks on the wall that bemoan the divine exile and the holiness that has left, the lives that have been extinguished, and the blood that has been shed.

Munye Kherson had a large family. The eldest son, Yosef, was killed alongside his family in Voronova, together with the other brother, Aharon (Arka), and his family. Today, his daughter, Bilke, married to Yaakov (Yankele), who was known in the town as a leader of the “Vilbig,” live in the United States. His son, Yisrael Kherson, also lives in the United States.

Munye Kherson's home was always full of young persons and the intellectuals among the town's Jews, both due to his status and because of his sons and daughters who were very active in the town's cultural pursuits.

Munye passed away prior to the war and did not suffer through the Holocaust, though part of his family was killed, as stated above, by the Nazi murderers in the mass grave in Voronova.

 

Translator's Footnotes
  1. Jewish study hall Return
  2. an additional prayer service that is recited on the Sabbath and holidays Return
  3. “Here I am, deficient in meritorious deeds” – a prayer chanted by the cantor prior to the Musaf service, humbly beseeching G-d to accept his prayers on behalf of the congregation Return
  4. “Let us ascribe holiness to this day” – a poem widely considered to be the pinnacle of the Rosh Hashanah prayer services Return

[Page 324]

Shlomo Kotler
(Shlomo the Coppersmith)

Translated by Meir Bulman

Shlomo Kotler was an impoverished Jewish man caring for his many children. He did not even own his own house; he lived in a rental behind the market. Shlomo was a peddler and every Saturday night he hurried to the nearby villages to buy various agricultural products. Shlomo handled many products: from swine hair, to fox and rabbit fur, to eggs and chicken, to calves and sheep. When his wagon was packed with merchandise he returned home, rested for a day, continued to Vilne and repeated the cycle. Shlomo was busy providing for his large family, but that was not his focus in life. He had a noble soul full of longing for Torah and love of Israel.

On the Sabbath, Shlomo prayed at the dais. And although he was not a cantor his great emotional spirit took hold of the crowd.

Our town was not blessed with famous Torah institutions and Yeshivot, but was indeed blessed with a twofold thirst for Torah. Every Jew found a unique manner of expressing that thirst according to individual abilities. Among other such activities in our town there was a Psalms-reading club whose members included common folk. They gathered on Shabbat afternoon and read together the “Borchi Nafshi[1] with tremendous devotion and enthusiasm. Shlomo was among the group leaders, and in a sweet voice sang each verse and the crowd replied as a choir. He who has not witnessed these precious Jews enthusiastically reciting the Psalms, their eyes ablaze with God's flame, has never seen holiness in his life.

For the sake of his business he, at times he needed to stay in Vilna over Shabbat. There too he recited “Borchi Nafshi” along with the audience.

Etched in my heart is a story I heard as a youth from Zeydke Lubetski about Shlomo Kotler. “Once on a Saturday night,” said Zeydke, “I traveled with my brother Simcha to the nearby villages to purchase stock. As we were trekking heavily through the dark woods, the sun began to rise. The whole universe awakened, song birds praised God, an intoxicating spring scent rose through the air, and all was silent. Suddenly we heard a prayer song erupting from deep within the forest. We listened carefully and heard the sweet notes of “Borchi Nafshi” ringing through the forest, and the echo of the forest replied as a choir. We stopped our wagon and waited impatiently, wondering. And there came Shlomo, sitting atop his wagon, and singing Tehilim[2] with a burning ecstasy, all from memory, and as a great tide.”

Those were the common folk in our town, simple peddlers, but full of God's love and an eternal love for the Psalms.

From his entire large family remain Moshe, who resides in Naharia, his son Eliezer, and his daughter Reyzl who resides in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

 

Editor's Footnotes
  1. Literally, ‘Praise, My Soul…’ (an exhortation directed to the soul of the supplicant). The phrase appears in various Psalms sometimes referred to collectively as the Borchi Nafshi. Return
  2. psalms Return

[Page 325]

Leybe the Blacksmith

Translated by Meir Bulman

At the entrance to town on its right side corner, on Vilne Street, stood a smithy, and behind it was the home of Leybe the Blacksmith. He was an average Jew, coarse and tongue–tied, married to Nekhama, who was a dear woman, kind–hearted, and righteous in both public and private. Life was very, very cruel to Nekhama the Blacksmith's wife. On market day, when there was more work than ever, Nekhama would stand with her husband by the anvil and pound the hot steel with a sledgehammer, while Leybe would urge and encourage her, “קלאפ נחמקע,פעסטער שטארקער[1]”. And Nekhama would pound faster on the anvil while sparks flew in every direction. She struck the white–hot steel to the astonishment of the villagers who surrounded her, mouths agape and wide eyed. She did not complain about her cruel fate and suffered in silence.

She was one of the strong spirited Jewish mothers in town who bravely carried their pain.

 

Translator's Footnote
  1. ‘Pound Nekhamke, faster, stronger’ Return


Zalmen Leyb Liv

Translated by Meir Bulman

Zalmen Leyb Liv excelled in his good traits. He was tall, with an impressive outward appearance, bright and captivating at first sight. Since the day he was born he had the energy of a man who was destined to guide and lead. He also possessed a natural, intricate intuition for trade and business. Zalman Leyb stood out since the days of WWI. When the Germans occupied our town, Zalman was appointed bürgermeister,[1] and did much to improve the poor financial state of the Jews at that time, and also rescued many Jews sentenced to forced labor camps.

After the war, he relocated to the Free City of Danzig and opened a department store. Fortune smiled on him and his store succeeded and expanded, and became one of the largest department stores in Danzig. After Hitler rose to power, Zalman Leyb had to leave Danzig and return to his hometown of Divenishok.

In 1941, after the Germans invaded the town, Zalman was appointed head of Judenrat[2] in town. His basic knowledge of the German language and mentality helped him with that difficult task. On the first days of their governing, the Germans had already arrested a number of town notables, and had led them as hostages to Oshmene. Among those notables were Nahum Lipkunski, Pinche Mintz and others. They were tortured in prison and their fate was sealed. After Zalman Leyb's vigorous lobbying efforts, they were released and returned home.

An unruly gang of Poles terrorized the town, headed by the famed robber Trushkevitsh from Yurgln Village. Night after night they raided Jewish homes, robbed, looted, and raped. Once, in the dead of the night, Pesye, daughter of Binyamin Mikelson broke out and shouted for help; the gang broke into her home and stole whatever they could lay their hands on. The town residents did not respond, due to their fear of the Germans. Due to Zalman's efforts, the gang members were arrested, and their leader, Trushkevitsh was executed at the center of the market place. Germans executing Poles for robbing Jews was an unusual event.

Many Jews from Vilne heard about the relative calmness in our town and began flocking to Divenishok. The German and Polish police banded together to ensure that no outsiders remained in town. Zalman Leyb volunteered to aid those refugees, and using various stratagems succeeded in securing resident status for these refugees from the outside.

The teacher Shmuel Geller from Ivia, who was among the refugees, describes the story of his rescue by Zalman Leyb: “After the situation in Vilne became unbearable, I decided to return to my wife and children in Ivia. I traveled on side roads and narrow paths. After two days I arrived in the town of Divenishok in great poverty, having been robbed on the road. I entered the first house I found and the homeowners there warmly greeted me, inquiring about the state of affairs in Vilne. As I told them the sound of muffled crying filled the house.

I was in town for two weeks before my situation became dire; the police officers were familiar with every Jew in town and I was in grave danger. It was proposed that I join a group of Jews who traveled to work in a sawmill at the גיעלז[3] near town, which would increase my chances of being permitted to reside in town. I accepted the offer, but fate did not smile upon me, and the Polish manager greeted me with swears and belittlement, kicking me off the premises. While walking away from the gate, the Poles sicced a large dog on me. I was bitten and bleeding all over with my clothes torn. To the sound of the cheering Poles, I escaped the place running for my life.

I returned to the town both devastated and fearful, at which point two Polish policemen jumped me, and as they struck me with force, demanded to see my papers. They led me, bleeding from my mouth, to the police station for transfer to the Gestapo. Jews who observed the event immediately informed the head of the Judenrat, Zalman Leyb Liv, and he went out and invited me and the two officers to his home. I do not know what Zalman said, but I do know this: Zalman Leyb Liv saved my life.”

A different event was recounted by Sarah Hinde, Moshe the tinsmith's daughter: “One day, the Germans captured two young refugees, brought them to the police, and were about to put them on a truck to an unknown destination. When Zalman Leyb saw what was about to take place, he ran to the station, and with some negotiation managed to free the two young men in exchange for two pairs of boots.”

After residents of Divenishok were transferred to Voronova, he was again appointed member of the Judenrat and did his best to rescue Jews from the Nazi claws. After the Voronova ghetto was dismantled, he was transferred to the Lida Ghetto, and there too he was among the leaders of the Judenrat, making an effort to ease the suffering of Jews and improve their bitter lives. The regime in Lida Ghetto was more lenient than in some other ghettos. Thanks to him there was a freer atmosphere in the ghetto which allowed a large flow of Jews from the ghetto to the woods. Near the time when the Lida Ghetto was to be dismantled he was permitted to live outside the ghetto's borders, and he easily could have escaped to the partisans. And indeed, the famed Bielski sent him a horse and wagon to bring him there, but Zalman refused, fearing the Germans would conduct a slaughter in the ghetto if he escaped.

After the dismantling of the Lida ghetto he was taken with all Jews to a death train and was executed in one of the death camps along with his wife and his only daughter.

From his large family remains his brother Zvi Ahuvi, יבדל”א[4].

 

Editor's Footnotes
  1. Position comparable to town mayor Return
  2. Jewish Councils mandated by German orders in the occupied communities of Eastern Europe during WWII Return
  3. This word is unknown to the editor and translator in either Hebrew or Yiddish. Return
  4. Long may he live. Return

[Page 327]

Meir Bolinski

Translated by Meir Bulman

He was a boy from a poor family who emigrated to the United States, where he was quite successful. Though he was not the wealthiest of men, he succeeded in life, and most importantly was content with his lot. While far from his town of origin, he did not forget for a moment the days of his childhood, the strife and the extreme poverty, the humiliation in suffering, and once he reached financial stability he then devoted himself to the poor and the suffering, especially his brethren across the sea, in his hometown of Divenishok.

Indeed, his whole life was dedicated to that goal. For sixty years he was among the chairmen of The Relief, and being a furrier he succeeded in raising funds at gatherings of furriers, funds dedicated in full to The Relief. Thanks to him, substantial funds were transferred to our town that outpaced even the לנדסמאנשפטים[1] in the large cities.

Meir Bolinski was among the founders of The Relief and one of its most dedicated, outstanding leaders. He always excelled in drive and resourcefulness, and was usually the first and most generous donor, serving as an example to the public. A donor and fundraiser, encouraging and motivational– that is how Meir Bolinski was.

After the Holocaust, he was contacted by a survivor from our town and assisted him substantially until he reached safe harbor.

He was gentle–spirited and a fair–tempered, a lover of humanity, and a holy soul. Public activity was both the spice of his life and inevitable. He stuck to his life goals to his last day. Even in his will he left a $500 charitable donation to the organization of Divenishok alumni in Israel.

All our town people will carry the memory of their great and devoted friend with longing and pain, he who dedicated his life to his brethren from our town with love, devotion, strength and money. He especially will be remembered by Sh'erit ha–Pletah[2] who found in him a loving and caring father figure and devoted friend, overflowing with love, attention, and the will to come to their aid and ease their pain.

May his memory be blessed.

 

Editor's Footnotes
  1. Landsmanshaftim: mutual aid and philanthropic organizations composed of immigrants from the same city or region which formed wherever large numbers of Eastern European migrants settled Return
  2. ‘Surviving remnant’, from Ezra 9:14 and I Chronicles 4:43; refers to Jewish refugees who survived the Shoah Return

[Page 328]


Meir Rogol
(מאיר דער נאז)
[1]

Translated by Meir Bulman

Meir Rogol, a wealthy man, considered one of the town's notables. His home, which was proudly displayed at the center of the marketplace, was a large brick home, a symbol of respect and importance on our town.

He was a tailor by trade and had a sewing workshop for mass production of clothes, where six young women were employed. He never interfered in public matters, being always reserved and a man of few words, calculating and level headed, meticulously dressed, and early to synagogue on the Sabbath. His daughter Mikhle married Yitzach Srulovitsh and lived with him in her father's home. His wife Etl passed away before the war.

Meir Rogol's source of pride was his son Moshe Yakov, an expert bookkeeper who knew Polish and worked at bank in Divenishok. His pride expanded further as his son married Reyzl, daughter of Rabbi Movshovitsh, meaning he was part of the Chief Rabbi's family.

His son Moshe Yakov emigrated with his family to the United States and lives there to this day. He is a very religious Jew, his love for Eretz Israel is immense, and he has also visited Israel many times.

 

Tranlsator's Footnote
  1. Meir the Nose Return


Yosef Aharon Schneider
(who fell in battle in the Yom Kippur War)
(who was the son of Eliezer Nakhum Schneider from יאנישבצינזע)
[1]

Translated by Meir Bulman

Yosef Aharon stood out as talented young man since childhood. A war waged on injustice accompanied him all his life. Coupled with t hat, he also excelled in manners and respect for his fellow man. Intelligence, common sense, and sound judgment were his dominant traits.

Yosef was born in Poland and made Aliyah with his parents to Be'er Sheba, where he attended primary school, high school, and being an excellent pupil, was then accepted as a student in the Negev University.

Yosef Aharon excelled in responsibility, punctuality, and dedication to every task he was assigned. He possessed an entrenched Jewish noble spirit and was proud of the Jewish tradition; he was very passionate in his love of the homeland.

During the Yom Kippur War he was enlisted in the Medical Corps and fulfilled difficult missions under enemy hellfire. He risked his life to rescue wounded soldiers from death more than once. He fell during the battle across the Suez, when a helicopter transferring the wounded from the east bank was shot down by a missile: all those in the helicopter were burned alive, including the doctors and medical personnel.

That is how noble youths fall for the sanctity of the homeland, with their youthful spirit and child–like smiles on their lips as they stand at the edge of life. The pure–hearted came from among us: they are the heroes of Israel who devoted their souls and sacrificed their blood and bones at the altar of our freedom and existence.

 

Editor's Footnote
  1. transliterates to something approximating Yannisev Zintse; meaning remains uncertain Return

[Page 329]

Yankel the Blacksmith (Yakov Khasman)

Translated by Meir Bulman

The gentiles in town, as in all towns of the Jewish diaspora, complained about Jews working in commercial trades and ‘easy’ professions, as opposed to those who made a living by doing hard work. So, the gentiles esteemed the Jewish blacksmiths for their ability to stand all day in the scalding heat by the anvil as sparks flew in many directions.

The blacksmith profession was entrenched within the Jewish population for generations. A Jewish blacksmith lived on every street in town. One of the more fascinating figures among the blacksmiths was Yankel the Blacksmith, a small–statured Jew with an athletic body–type, large shoulders, and warty hands. He was a kind man of few words who received with affection the curious children who came to his shop.

Yankel the Blacksmith worked tirelessly. The bulk of his income came from fashioning sickles for the area villagers. The manufacturing was done in a number of stages: first the bending of steel to the shape of a sickle, secondly a sharpening procedure, thirdly fashioning prongs, and finally handle installation.

Yankel's sickles obtained quite a reputation and on market days the smithy was packed with area farmers. The man minced his words and worked quickly and patiently, silently and calmly, with no complaints or criticism. On Shabbat days he would wear a suit and walk slowly from Subotnik Street to the synagogue, then pray serenely and bless the Creator for kindly providing for him.

At times of need he demonstrated supreme bravery in defending the honor of Israel–– to the point of risking his life. One such story was told as follows: Important Polish officials visited the town on occasion and the residents would prepare a gate of honor in front of the synagogue courtyard with a Star of David decorated with flowers adorning its top.

On one of these occasions, the district governor was scheduled for a visit, and as was custom, the Jews erected the honor gate, and the Rabbi and the village notables awaited their guest with bread and salt. This took place in the late 1930's, at the height of anti–Semitism in Poland. The Poles, headed by the anti–Semitic Polish teacher Koitle, tried to remove the star from atop the gate. The Jews expressed their firm opposition and so Koitle summoned armed Poles from the National Guard (Steshelzi), which he headed, and approached the gate as he waved his sword above his head.

Suddenly, Yankel the Blacksmith burst forth, quickly removed Koitle's sword, and shattered it on his knee, tossing its pieces all around. The awe–stricken Poles retreated from the Jewish gate in shame.

Yankel the Blacksmith symbolized the typical and unique image of the popular Jew in the towns of Lithuania, encompassing a Jewish rootedness in hard work and a love of the People of Israel.

[Page 330]

Rafael the Bricklayer

Translated by Meir Bulman

On Vilne Street lived a dear man named Rafael the Bricklayer. He was a Jew who made his livelihood with hard work; his profession was building fireplaces. He was an artist of the profession, and not every person was fortunate enough for Rafael to build his oven.

R' Rafael was a man who focused on both Torah and work. He was a scholar, with a pleasant voice, and for that reason he led prayers at the old synagogue on high holidays.

He passed away while I was yet a child, but his memory was etched in my heart due to his charming personality; to this day he stands before me as if alive. I find myself morally obligated to memorialize him and his family.

R' Rafael was invited to our house to build a fireplace. I stood near him to watch him work and was amazed by his quick hands. I soon caught his attention and he began testing my knowledge of Words of our Sages and Midrash. I was very much impressed by his knowledge. From time to time he would trill holiday hymns in his pleasant voice. He labored and sang, and the sounds of Kol Nidrei would mix with the sound of the fireplace being built. R' Rafael passed away a short time after that and our fireplace was his last product. I remember his wife came to us to be paid for the fireplace and it was she who tearfully told us her husband passed away.

R' Rafael was succeeded by two sons and a daughter. His oldest son, Yosef, was a Zionist activist in town who then married out of town. His second son, Michael, was a gentle, disabled man, and spent most of his days praying, and studying Torah. Rafael's daughter Libkhe, worked for Natan Kaplan and passed away at a young age.

After Rafael's death, his family lived a life of poverty. Michael could not afford a shaver and would sit for hours and trim his beard with scissors, which thoroughly depressed me. They were proud people and never complained of their misfortune. On one Friday afternoon I visited their house without notifying them first, and in their oven I saw a small pot of potatoes and nothing more. I told that to Avraham Noakh the ritual slaughterer and he tried to assist them in various ways. Since then, that family was among those who were often given the spleen.

Rafael's son Michael tried to work as a tutor. He taught pupils in the women's section at the synagogue but was not very successful. He excelled at writing beautifully, and many women would request his services in writing letters to America. Among them was Solomon Levin's mother, and he was deeply impressed by Michael's beautiful wording and his impressive handwriting.

That family was unfortunate. The mother, Khaya, and her son, Michael, found their deaths at the Voronova ghetto.

[Page 331]

Shalom Yakov Olkanitski

Translated by Meir Bulman

Shalom Yakov Olkanitski's family was a very enlightened family. They came to us from Subotnik in the 1920s. When they arrived, Shalom Yakov Olkanitski was already a widower and did not want to remarry–– so that the children would not have to experience a step mother.

The father was educated, an illustrator and a musician, a devout lover of classical music, who was skilled in playing the violin, and he instilled that talent in his sons. I remember he would come to the home of the ritual slaughterer Avraham Noakh Shlomovitsh, who owned a radio, and sit for hours and hours listening to classical music, without saying a word. At those times he was concentrating and immersed, as if in a different, elevated dimension. He was a man of few words and never shared his musical soul with strangers. With difficulty, he supported his family by etching gravestones and painting.

Fate was unkind to him in regard to his family life. Is oldest son, Lolle, who was a very talented, kind, and charming young man, escaped in the 30's to the Soviet Union with Paula, Leyb Srulovitsh's wife. There he suffered poverty and passed away in 1972, survived by his only daughter in Leningrad.

His second son Aharon was a musician, and played the violin beautifully, and expectations were set high for him, but he suddenly fell ill with pneumonia and passed away at the age of 19.

His father loved him dearly, and though he was estranged from his religion, would run to the synagogue in the dead of night and ask for mercy on his son. He made a special tombstone for his son Aharon. Every letter he etched he would soak in his tears. He framed a picture in glass and an etched violin below. He went to the cemetery weekly where he bitterly wept at his son's grave.

His only daughter Khava was a sympathetic young woman, and was an intensive member of the drama club. She was also a kind and courteous librarian at the public library. Khava married in Vilne and it is there she passed away.


Yekusiel Zhizhemski (Kushke)

Translated by Meir Bulman

My friend from my youth, Yekusiel Zhizhemski, was always smiling, happy, handsome and kind. He was affectionately nicknamed ‘Kushke’ by his parents and friends. We traveled a long road together. In grade one in elementary school we had already befriended one another, a bond which strengthened as we progressed through the grades. He was a good friend, honest, truthful, and devoted. Kushke was an only child to his parents Yosef and Miriam (Mirele). They loved him and pampered him, but alongside the pampering ensured he was given a traditional Jewish education, and instilled in him the values of friendship and respect for peers–– and nurtured within him the love of nation and homeland.

After school a few us friends would do our homework together. His father, a hatter, sat by us, snipping from paper or cloth different designs of hats, supervising us and ensuring we properly completed our homework. He would enjoy his son's proficiency in Torah or mathematics.

When he reached his bar mitzvah he gave up every gift offered by his parents and insisted they buy him an album Photos of Eretz Israel published in Tel Aviv. With much love, he browsed through the book, his eyes lighted with happiness and satisfaction. The album was a source of pride and every friend was invited to read and listen to Yekusiel's commentary.

His parents' home was nice and quiet. His mother was a perfect housewife–– order and cleanliness was impeccable. There were always teachers residing in their home. I remember that the teacher Sonenson (from the town of Lubtsch) taught us in preparation for our studies in Vilne. We did indeed travel to study in Vilne; I at the Hebrew Gymnasium, and Kushke at the Tsherne Seminary, which he successfully completed, and was then accepted as a teacher at the Hebrew school in our town.

Kushke was an avid Zionist and from a young age was member of HaShomer HaTzair[1], first as student and later as a guide and teacher. He was a brave warrior for the Hebrew language. He and I subscribed to HaKokhav [The Star] which was published in Lodzh, edited by famed writer and educator Aharon Lubishitski. Due to the dire financial state of Poland in the 30s the paper did not survive long, as there were not even 5000 subscribers among the youth.

When the Soviets entered, Yekusiel was appointed principal of the Jewish school in town and excelled in his devotion, patience, and love for educational work. When the Germans entered, the Jewish school was shut down and Kushke disappeared. He found his death at the Voronova ghetto.

 

Tranlsator's Footnote
  1. Zionist self–defense movement Return

 

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