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[Page 193]

Kovl (Kovel)

by Kalman Liss

Translated by Gloria Berkenstat Freund

I want to tell everyone
I do not want to be ashamed in front of anyone
To say something from my heart
All the old, dear names.

Of my Kovl - Volyner city
With the small alleys
Where my childhood blossomed
Fresh as a flower, as in spring - valleys…

Lutsker Street of my birth,
Dear, kind ribbon
Covered with a small group of low houses,
If you recall, do you remember?

Your low huts
With entry booths on the street corners,
Like dreams in the dusk
Like the dreams at dawn…

Here as last night, I think last night
Let it be as it was,
Three, two small houses on the “Lutsker”
And the rest maples, lilacs.

At the very beginning of the highway
Small mountains of stones, press [road building] machines,
At the sides, small ditches
And the water trickles in the ditches.

[Page 194]

Do not ask where, not when, from where
Who needs to ask ditches?
Everyone knows, to the “Torya” [River]
Streams storm after the rain.

And the old beloved bridge
With its wooden railings
How many dreams were dreamed there
Resting on its wooden beams!

Alas, the Torya, dear Torya,
Drawn out as a serpent,
Your small ripples, the clear ones
Still reflect in my eyes!

Your shores very soft
Incized into meadows
Keep drawing
In one dream, remembering…

In the summer, in the extreme heat,
After half a day in kheder [religious primary school],
A goodbye to my mother
And a fig [thumb one's nose] to the dark bathhouse attendants.

Who needs seats and who needs brooms
To be suffocated by steam?[1]
Clean, in water, let there be reeds
But fresh … the heart quickens…” Shabbosim [Sabbaths] and holidays…
Torya, Torya, they took leave!
I still carry enough love, praise
In my heart for your roads.

[Page 195]

But let me run now
As you let them, your thoughts free -
I am a child again, and I am drawn
To the place of the carousel:

To the wooden church, the round one
With the seats in half circles,
I have a tsenerl [a 10-piece coin] - a wonder
I shall be shown there.

Let the magician again draw
Ribbons from a cap,
Perhaps, I will, as before,
Also imitate a trick today?

And the sand, the heaped
Yellow hill, with the tall cross;
Do the knights all still lie there?
Does the crowd all quiver for them?

Do the bandora players still sing and narrate
Everything with a groan.
That Poland once struggled
Here in 1863?[2]

And the lyre player, the grey one there,
Hair fluttering, white doves,
Draws still all the same sadness,
Sings still all the same praises.

I will tell everyone,
I will not be ashamed in front of anyone,
I will say something to myself
Take all of the old love…

 

Translator's Notes

  1. The poet is describing the bathhouse in which bathers sat on seats in steam heat and beat their bodies with bundles of twigs dipped in cold water to increase the absorption of steam into the body. Return
  2. A reference to the January 1863 Polish Uprising against the Tsarist regime controlling Poland. Return

 


[Page 198]

Yona Rosenfeld

by Yohanan Twerski

Translated by Ala Gamulka

I first saw him, in Kovel, when I was a youth. (My grandfather, the Rabbi from Trisk, established his “court” there). I clearly recall his gait. A writer…the soul is nourished by blood, but it is the entire being of man as man and of a people as people. He was one of the first writers I met.

“My first creations”, he speaks about himself in the collection of his writings. In volume one, “there were ordinary descriptions of my life. Later, I turned to other topics and more complicated situations.”

 

 

In one of his first psychological stories he describes a young man whose hand was amputated in the hospital. “It was only a month ago…he says in deep sorrow…that he and others were equal physically and now he is detached from everything. It seems to him that other human beings are distant from him and are strangers”. No, it's not only his imagination. His fiancée's little brother, whom he loves, checks his empty sleeve constantly. “uncle Meir, where is your hand?”. His bride becomes quite hysterical. Is she ashamed or disgusted?

Yona Rosenfeld himself saw, in his lifetime, how man can harm another one.

[Page 199]

In his autobiographical book “All Alone”, he describes various events from his youth.

He was no longer a child, but he had not grown as tall as others in his age group. This made him very sensitive. His brother sent him, as an apprentice , to an engraver. His boss made him do many unpaid tasks. The boy was a slave and he became jealous of a puppy. Everyone loved the puppy, especially the daughter of his boss. The boy was never called by his first name, but was always “hey, you”. At night the women of the household assembled in the kitchen. There was only a thin partition between the kitchen and the hallway where he slept. The women did what they wanted and did not lower their voices, in modesty. It was as if he were not even a male or a human being. On Shabbat and holidays he did not have clean and proper clothes. The lady of the house gave him her old shoes (male shoes were too big). When he met a young woman he felt that she would notice the women's shoes he wore. This really bothered him. In addition, he was to accompany the daughters to market and to carry the shopping bag. He could not have been more ashamed– men are to do women's work!

The young man was excited and in his anger he poisoned the puppy. This is how the writer spent his youth. It was an atmosphere in which “man is poisoned”. It is like a snake that is crazed, but cannot bite his enemy.

Here, in Kovel, life was good for him. He had a small, white room. A girlfriend with a loving, gentle voice. Yona Rosenfeld had a better life than he had had in Warsaw and even, later, in New York.

There–says one of his protagonists– you meet geniuses everywhere. I said to myself– even if you are wrong, like all your friends, even if you are truly a genius, you would be despondent if these worthless people think themselves to be smarter than you…what is the use of genius, if others think of themselves to be geniuses, but they really are not?

Rosenfeld's young wife brings tea. He turns to me, thrusting his forehead and bowing his shoulders.

–So, you are a grandson of the Trisker? Did you notice? In the animal kingdom there are no insults. Animals attack each other and they intend to kill or defend. Man sets upon his fellow man in anger. His intention is to insult. This is how our ancestors did it. They demanded payment for insults. Your grandfather wishes to return evil back to goodness? What? It seems to me that not everything is owed just as it is not entitled.

[Page 200]

B

In the summer of 1937 we moved to Brighton Beach in New York. From our windows we could see the ocean sparkling blue. The sand, early in the morning, would be shiny and cold. It became hot. People streamed in. They seemed to all look alike, sweaty and tired. Dozens of people were on the beach. There were Italian and Jewish women. Their bodies did not show that they spared themselves any food. Young men with suntanned faces and muscular bodies. Young women sporting sunglasses…. There was modesty and brashness, shame and fierceness. The good and the bad. The senses were wanting and satisfied. Some want to enjoy themselves and jump into turbulent surfs. Others play ball in the water. They shriek like babies and splash. A few only dip their toes and leave. People lie, almost dead in the heat, on colorful towels spread on the sand. Others turn their back to the sun as if they wished to be baked.

The beach looked like an altar to sun and water when we stood at the windows of our apartment. It was summer 1937 and Hitler's shadow was spreading and growing. Here there were no worries, only happy times.

Yes. Here it is easier to ignore world problems since they are only possibilities at this time. However, when those close to us are suffering, we need to pay attention. “Happiness is limited”, once wrote Rosenfeld. “Great happiness can cause obstruction of the heart. A terrible catastrophe can bring a sharpening of ideas”. Is it true that only great suffering is needed? That eventful summer Yona Rosenfeld suffered terribly. He was ill with cancer. He soon died. However, that summer he was still our neighbor. His apartment was in our complex, El Mirassol.

Whenever one enters the room of someone very ill, one feels that it is very cold there, in contrast to the heat outside. Rosenfeld used to sit at the edge of his wide bed. It seemed as if he were reclining.

Look! Guests! It is a holiday when guests come and when guests come it is a holiday. He looks straight into my eyes and says” I am now a pile of bones! A weightless body”.

Like a lover who does recognize his beloved after her death– this is what he fears. No one will recognize him after he dies. Rosenfeld was always tiny and he begrudged it. However, now he was even smaller. He was almost unrecognizable. Listening to him one feels that he wants, but does not want others to agree with him

[Page 201]

“In difficult times” , he once wrote, “people become childish. They require warmth”.

–No, Rosenfeld, what are you saying? You will recover!

A slight smile appeared on his face.

–Sometimes, man does not lie, but he also does not tell the truth.

I sensed that when one enters a sick room in happiness, one does alleviate his pain. Is there more happiness possible as when a healthy person visits a dying one? I remind Rosenfeld of his work and his face changes.

–Am I working? Of course! When one wishes to marry a woman, but doesn't, one gets boils on his face. This is what happens to talent that is stopped. A creator needs to create. Woe to the writer who does not produce. No, we must not divorce the pen. One must continue to work and to create. If not, one would express literary thoughts by deluding oneself. Don't be crazy…Have you noticed how much wisdom lies in our subconscious? With all our present knowledge and that of another thousand years, we will not reach its depth. Yes. I still work.

I remember that Rosenfeld's stories are archived by the editor of the Forwards. He is angry at Rosenfeld. For hours and hours one can hear the typewriter in Rosenfeld's room. Out of pride, not to anger anyone and perhaps as a last effort, he is involved in writing his new novel.

–Yes. I work a lot. The doctor said my heart and lungs are healthy. I used to walk along the boardwalk twice a day. I even swam in the ocean. It is good to leave the noisy crowds. A quarter of a mile out, it is the sound of the waves that one hears , not the “bouncing bell”. It reminds you how great is the sea and how small is man. Don't go too far! Lately, I did not go far from shore, but I still went into the water on a daily basis. People wondered about me – he is sick and he dips in the ocean? If most people did not wash their faces, they would say: look at the sick one – he washes his face! You should know that I used to regularly swim in the ocean, summer and winter. Such a pleasure! The water cuts the body like a knife. One minute equals an hour in the summer…yes, my heart is healthy…but my back…from a difficult childhood. Maybe…question mark!

Is everything a question mark? A moment of silence. Through the window we hear broken sounds – laughter, singing, shouts and declarations. The waves are splashing the pier. There is a beginning and a continuity.

[Page 202]

–Rosenfeld, what is the subject of your new novel?

His stare deepens, as if he were trying what is beyond his vision.

–I always have difficulty choosing the subject – he replies in his Volyn Yiddish.

–It is more difficult than the actual writing. That I do easily from the inside. The topic comes mainly from meeting people. Truly, I remember events when I was less than three years old. However, you spend most of your life, at least your younger years, in a shop. I was in a small Godforsaken town up to my Bar Mitzvah. You see a few people living a gray life. Did you ever feel the damp emptiness emanating from kitchens of the poor because so little cooking happens there and also the lack of air. Your young days are filled with days that are all the same. Yes, when you experience this life, you cannot, I believe, go deeply into your subjects. At first I used to describe ordinary lives. Later, I went into more complicated subjects. Sometimes I could not even get out of them. In any case…since I do not have a great choice of characters, I must write about various situations that my characters encounter. Thus a character stops being just a character. Truthfully, there really is no such a situation. The middle of the pillow sinks under Rosenfeld's head and folds are created around him. What I mean , is that the character exists, but he remains the same as long as there is no change in his situation. We find even the biggest heroes in difficult situations and the wisest people without a solution.

Mrs. Rosenfeld, his “delicate and tiny” wife, approaches his bed, her face “pale and babyish”– this is how he described her – and wants to spread his blanket over him.

–No, Hayale, I will do it myself . By myself. I must do what I can as long as I am able to do so. If people fuss over me, I will feel that I am really sick. What, the doctor? I don't like doctors. I remember one who had a drink with me and as soon as he said “lechaim”, the word became “to death”! What do the doctors know?

Does he really believe this or does he just want to believe in miracles? Perhaps– who knows– the doctors misdiagnosed? …He is unable to eat much, but he must have something every couple of hours it can be a glass of milk with biscuits or warm potatoes. This eases somewhat his deep pain. He shoves his bare feet into sandals and goes down.

[Page 203]

He prepares his meal by himself. He sits on a chair in his sandals and blue and white pajamas. A pillow supports his back. He says to the women:

Please forgive me. A sick person is like a child. No one needs to be righteous with him.

The hot potatoes, full of starch, emit a steam.

–This is a life saving food! …The potatoes remind him of distant days, his childhood in Volyn, in Kovel…a simple and eternal odor emanates from them. It is also the scent of mushrooms. He wipes his mouth with a napkin. And the smells of the ocean. It is a healing and rejuvenating smell. It is for eternity!

It is obvious: he is more broad minded. Does he feel something in his heart?

Do you know , a guest or a host that does not speak, is one of the worst things.– A short recess– sometimes I say to myself that man cannot be hard headed up to his death. How can one stand a person who has no sense of humor? Humor is the second thread in a gray cloth. An artist cannot be one–sided. Take Chekhov, for example, of all the writers in the world – actually I should not judge…I only know Russian literature…Out of all the Russian writers, Chekhov is the one closest to my heart. He is deep, humorous and tragic. That is, the lives of his tragic heroes reach the absurd, and the absurd becomes a tragedy. How wise he is! Dostoyevsky is more monotonous in his choice of subjects and heroes. I mean, their morbidity…Maupassant– I read him in Russian– most of his topics deal with relations between men and women. Most of his stories are just anecdotes. He looks into man's soul, but not too deeply. However, Chekhov…there is no topic in life that his sharp eye does not see! When we go deeper in life, we manage to sail away, at least from their outer veneer. As for our own writers, I was most taken by David Bergelson. He is talented and he is able to criticize life quite acutely in his writings.

Rosenfeld returns to his bed.

–Do you know that all people know how to write and to tell a story. Everyone is interested in the lives of others. However, now, we are much tuned into ourselves and we don't see other people. Stupidest and cruelty are actually the same thing!

In the picture of Rosenfeld, painted by Manievitch, he now resembles Shalom Aleichem. A very complicated Shalom Aleichem.

[Page 204]

C

The early morning hours are good in Brighton. The noise of the city is still far away. The sand, trampled on yesterday by hordes of people and filled with their garbage, now is plowed and is full of sea shells. As you walk on the beach, covered in a cape, perhaps it is still damp, your towel draped on your shoulders, you smile at strangers passing by. You smile, not just to be polite, but because you are happy and proud that you were among the first ones.

Loneliness is felt in Yona Rosenfeld's room. It is the loneliness that a dying person feels among thousands of people. He will have an operation shortly. He stretches on his bed.

–In addition, he whispers, the pain does not go away. There is much sadness in this pain!

It is very hot now outside. The heat is like an anesthetic for the senses. However, this room, it seems, seems cooler. The telephone rings on the other side of the wall. A voice is heard saying “hello”. Rosenfeld lifts his head.

–They want news.

–Why do you say this, Rosenfeld? People are interested in your welfare.

–No. They want news!…they want something spicier and sharper. Did you hear, when Dr. Koralnik died, one of his friends phoned us. An educated woman . Did you hear the news? And now…

In the doorway we see I.I.Singer, his bald head gray as a rock. His face clean shaven. How different are these two friends! One completely open and the other always hiding. Singer is a realist and likes the world as it exists. Of course, he also knows the power of mystery and pretense in the soul. (Somehow he does not get caught in it). This is why he wants to uproot any delusion from the beginning. Rosenfeld was more open , (he, too, like any person, guards his deepest, last secret). Singer, it seems, wants to be an observer, but he is overlooked. He is an honest and warm person, according to those close to him. His heart is open, but his mind doubts everything.

–Nu, Yona? – he sits down as a trusted friend.

The conversation immediately becomes an argument. For some reason I sometimes want to catch Singer's meaning. Perhaps I just want to show him that although I am young, I am not idle in front of this successful and famous writer. How our points of view differ almost about everything. Rosenfeld listens with alertness. He begins to speak.

[Page 205]

Most of what he says seems to be in parentheses. You don't know what is more important. He suddenly smiles at his guests.

–Look now. You are listening to my words in unnatural silence. It is if I am no longer here! – he stops– sometimes you are told about this one and that one and you don't know who he is. You imagine because it must be important. He is deathly ill.

Singer leaves. His car, parked outside the building, roars and joins the other cars. Rosenfeld whispers:

–Do you know. I now see people in two groups– the sick and the healthy. Compared to the two groups I find myself outside the circle. There are people who make me think about things I do not know are in my head. When they leave, I still don't know that I know what I don't know that I know.

When he is alert, Rosenfeld is very interesting.

 

D

Even in the streets close to the ocean the air is strange. The sun will soon set, earlier than usual. Will there be a storm? Dozens of people are using straws to drink from cool bottles. Their mouths are dry. Shoes of many people are strewn on the beach. Women are coming to the ocean and young fathers are pushing strollers. Young women wearing makeup and men with thick cigars. People are walking and others are driving, comfortable in their seats.

Rosenfeld faces the window. Tomorrow he will have his surgery. It is doubtful that it will save him. Still, when in difficult times, one clings to hope.

–Do you know– he says suddenly– my stomach is full of stones and metal. When the sun sets, street lights are lit and you cannot see the darkness. You no longer feel the magic of summer nights nor its silence. On moonlit nights…it is so noisy you don't sense the moon! Maybe it's for the best. Night and silence. I think– perhaps you will laugh– that the two combine as one. As a result we have corruption. Look at human beings –don't they all have a tendency to be sad? What is the purpose? We are still not accustomed to night and the power of darkness. Tell me, please, why does night always bring a worsening of a person's condition? Do you know, in my childhood,

[Page 206]

On Friday nights, the candles burned almost to the end. Now, the darkness is so sweet. You can taste a thousand different flavors in the darkness. On weekdays, babies were afraid of the dark, but not now!

He suddenly feels that I am sucking on an unlit pipe (especially now, as in all times of stress, it is difficult to refrain from smoking, but one must not do so in a sick room.)

–You are “smoking” an unlit pipe? – how amusing! One person is showing off a thick cigar to show he is an important doctor; another – to show he is a respected businessman! How short–sighted people are! Such nonsense…such mystery!

Rosenfeld bites his lower lip due to his pain. A moment of quiet. There are sounds and light in the doorway. Here it is semi–darkness. Rosenfeld curls his mouth and, it seems, is speaking to a third person, on the side. His voice is very weak.

–Do you know, it is a mistake to think that man needs a reason to kill himself. Everything depends on the person. One – maybe he is predestined to do it– would kill himself after a short time of suffering. Another will overcome all obstacles, even if they are difficult and lengthy. I am certain of one thing– in the whole world there is no one who has never thought about it even once– about suicide! Few people really do it. It is possible that even they want to change their minds at the last minute. They are in a magical circle– both life and death are too difficult for them. One is worse than the other. I have thought much about death, maybe even more than others have. Most people travel on a river with perfect trust, without fear. But I…I never felt trust even in my lack of trust…By the way, do you know that the acme in love affairs borders on death? Exactly now…it is not a philosophical calm, but numbness. Terrible physical suffering can confuse you. Total withdrawal from life is no longer frightening…Do you know that perhaps one is more afraid of death when one sees the moment has come. But I am not dismayed.

The room is quiet. There is a shadow on the wall, nothing real.

–I don't know what is the reason, but most people die at night. I will probably die at night. At the beginning of the day I feel so fresh, as if I am reborn!

[Page 207]

–Rosenfeld, you will be lucky and work many more years!

–Yes, maybe… I don't want to die. The pains are quite unbearable. However, not wanting to live and wishing to die, are they not the same!

 

E

It is a bright morning. On the horizon one can see a large ship. On the beach there are awnings that resemble colorful mushrooms.

In Rosenfeld's house there are people who speak in low voices. Rosenfeld prepares himself to go to the hospital. Has he prepped his soul for his destiny?

It is time to go. He looks at the mirror on the wall.

–Do you know –he once said– over the years a person changes his purpose, but,

still, there is something specific I used from birth to death. It is no wonder– when compared to eternity, our life is quite short. There is not enough time to change everything!

He leaves the mirror and his Adam's apple moves up and down.

–Should I go first or last?

He looks around him– is he saying goodbye to his home? I knew: in Rosenfeld's eyes a mezuzah is not necessary, but perhaps he would have been happy to have one on his door frame.

He enters first into the elevator. The iron cage descends into the well with screeching of the cables.

* * *

His illness was postponed for a few years. “I am now working on a second autobiography “. He wrote to me. “I should have written it first because I speak about myself during early childhood. It was a beautiful time”. Near his end he turned back to the beginning. He never completed his book.

He died not at night, but at dawn. It seemed to him that he had been reborn.


[Page 208]

Yosef Avrekh

by Yaacov Teitelkar

Translated by Amy Samin

A memorial tribute to the Hebrew teacher of the Tarbut Hebrew Gymnasia of Kovel

Yosef Avrekh was born in Kovel in 1892 to devout and pious parents. His father, Ben-Zion the shochet [ritual slaughterer], possessed an upright bearing and a majestic appearance, and was one of the most experienced and respected shochatim in the city, and his mother Pasil the shochetanit was the daughter of a pious and good family, purely righteous and self-denying, and who knew all the writings of the sages of blessed memory by heart, and prayed the deliberately whispered prayer three times a day just like a man. Even as a young child “Yoske” the shochet's son, displayed lofty talents and a deep longing for study and scientific knowledge. Sensitive, impulsive, and full of movement,

 

 

Yoske was a standout amongst his friends and classmates in the heder [small religious school] in the neighborhood of the “city” (“Stat”) - the place where there stood the cramped house squeezed in amongst the crowded wooden houses of the neighborhood - and he was the accepted leader of the group of boys, the conductor of games and amusements, and the instigator of youthful pranks. However, his thoughts were not only of games. While still a boy he was not satisfied with his studies in the heder, nor by the stories of children's literature, which to him were unsatisfying. He searched for “external” books, books that were substantive and would reveal to him the mysteries of the world before which he stood, wondering and silent, to know the meaning of the great vision of the bush that burned but was not consumed… he sought, and he found them. He took a risk and snuck them into the attic, where concealed from prying eyes he would devour them, completely engrossed with all of his being. Refined and purified after a disappearance of several days, he was “discovered” by his friends, who gathered

[Page 209]

together in a group one night with the starry sky spread out over their heads and the pale moon looking down on them with “the eyes of Yaacov our father”, watching between the wide passageways and the far off distances. And in a mysterious whisper he revealed his hidden “secret” to them, after making them swear a sacred oath to keep the secret and never, G-d forbid, reveal it to anyone: Do you see those stars? They are not stars at all, they are worlds, just like our world… and that moon's eyes are not eyes. Those are wells in her soil - the soil of the moon… and the heavens - Shh! No one should hear… That is not the heavens, it is a cavity, an empty space of air.

Through reading a great many children's books, newspapers, and magazines for adults, Yoske acquired a vast knowledge of the Hebrew language, and he initiated the idea of resuscitating spoken Hebrew in the everyday life of society; and he implemented the idea in a consistently vigorous manner, showering his friends with spoken Hebrew wherever they went. With all of his soul and all of his might, he believed in the Zionist idea and the enchanting personality of Herzl captured his heart, and he prophesized while dreaming and while awake, and he included the subject at every opportunity in conversations with his friends.

In 1904, when the unfortunate news of Herzl's death was received, Yoske gathered his friends in the street and gave them a comprehensive speech about Herzl. At the end of his speech, he lifted his right hand and solemnly swore: “if I forget Jerusalem, may my right hand lose its cunning… ” and that pledge came to be.

Yoske's mother Pasil the shochetanit, a housewife and owner of a shop in the marketplace of the city, an ink manufacturer, was constantly busy at home and in her shop - she often needed the assistance of Yoske. One day, she suggested to him that he go to the mill in the city where they ground grain into flour for sale. Yoske jumped at the idea, happy at the opportunity for a tour of the windmill with its mysterious, enormous wooden sails… With great curiosity and hurried inquisitiveness he left nothing untouched or undiscovered at the mill. He looked at the grindstones, at the upper stone and the lower, wondering about the rotation of the wheels and the straps wrapped around them, making their continuous way. He became enthusiastic about their movement and caressed them; he was caught up and suspended from them… The mill was stopped. Yoske came home from the hospital after about two weeks, with his right hand lost to him.

From then on, there was a fundamental apposition in his life. His parents began to think about practical matters. Yoske agreed to be sent to study for four years in a renowned yeshiva in Odessa in whose management a number of the great authors of the generation participated, including Mendele and Bialik. After four years Yoske returned home from Odessa a well-versed Torah scholar. After only a few days he went into teaching. He founded the first elementary school in Kovel and took

[Page 210]

one of the most important positions in the cultural and spiritual life of the city in general, and of the Zionist movement in Kovel specifically. He stood at the forefront of the instigators for the Tarbut movement next to Asher Frankfurt, and became a Judaic studies teacher in the gymnasia, educating the young generation of dedicated pioneers about their people, Zionism and how to actualize their nationalist ideals - his lifelong dream since childhood - until the outbreak of the war.

Yosef Avrekh was a lofty person, refined, meticulous and noble. He was a deep person, with a profoundly realistic outlook on life, viewing the world from a lofty vantage point, influenced by prophetic justice. A dreamer with his eyes wide open… A philosopher whose chief philosophy and view was the problem of the people of the world, the eternal abuse of the people of Israel, the deprived, downtrodden and supplanted by the nations of the world. He recognized and valued life. He respected nature and its charms. He appreciated and noticed the supremacy and the splendor in its revelation and what was hidden inside. He longed to find solutions to its mystery in all particulars, the purposefulness of creation which he never ceased pondering. He loved life, and was involved in it with every fiber of his being. He was impressed and enthusiastic about the zephyr, the sounds of silence, the enchantment of the scenery and the refreshing green carpet of the fields outside of the city, where he would walk every morning, taking in the essence of the day. The texture of the pale blue of the Turia River, where he would swim at the crack of dawn and would express his feelings and thoughts in conversation and wax enthusiastic about the creation of the world and everything in it.

With the outbreak of the Soviet-German war, when Hitler announced his well-known declaration

 

Yosef Avrekh at the time of his studies in the Odessa yeshiva.
Avrekh is sitting third from the left in the second row (from the top down).
In the third row, fifth from the right sits the poet H. N. Bialik of blessed memory.

 

[Page 211]

to destroy all of the Jews of Europe, which announcement was broadcast on the radio, that same hour Yosef Avrekh ran around his room like a wounded lion, shouting: “Who does this crazy, arrogant idiot think he is?! The world - abandoned, with no justice and no judge?! The world will allow him to destroy all the Jews of Europe?! It will never happen! He must fall, and he will fall!”

In 1942 the Nazis crowded all of the Jews of Kovel into the field of the city in order to kill them in the village of Bachba, 6 kilometers from the city along the Brisk road, in graves that had already been dug. Who could have guessed and who would have said how deep and how fatal were the hellish torments of those about to be slaughtered, and who can describe the suffering of Yosef Avrekh, when he saw so clearly that: the world has been abandoned, that there is no justice and no judge! No one did anything to stop the murderous conspiracy against an entire people, of a magnitude and structure the likes of which had never before been seen in history! Or the volcanic tempest in his heart that burst its bounds and became a desperate cry of a plundered people in the light of day, for nothing. Weak and feeble, in everyday life, frightened and shaking before the violent rulers; this time Yosef Avrekh rose up from among the rows of thousands of Jews being led to massacre, with courage and mental strength beyond one's comprehension, and raising his voice and his only hand, intrepidly - as was told by eyewitnesses - approaching the murderous Germans, he filled their ears with his wrath, spitting bile and contempt in their faces and predicting their inevitable defeat on the crucial day soon to come!

His single remaining hand was instantly amputated by the sword of the murderer. He was shot where he stood. He fell in battle. Wallowing in his own blood, he gave out one last battle cry: “The people of Israel live! Death and vengeance to the criminal Nazis!” In his service to his people, in his dedication of all of his might in life, and in his demonstration of the existence of the people in the face of the enemy's sword, and being answered by the sword on his head as a rebuke, he died a hero's death, the self-sacrifice of a proud and brave-hearted Jew, a hero protecting the honor of his people.

May his soul be bound up in the bonds of everlasting life.

May his soul be bound up in the bonds of the sacred and pure heroes, and may his memory never be forgotten!


From the Writings of Yosef Avrekh

Translated by Amy Samin

The Massorah [notations regarding the exact traditional text of the bible] explain to us the origins of the name Gilad, the important region on the eastern side of the Jordan River, which was frequently a rock in the dispute between the Hebrew tribes on the eastern side of the Jordan and the Moabs and the Amons from the south, and the Arameans from the north. It comes from the words: Gal-Ed, in other words, the heap of stones will stand forever

[Page 212]

between the children of Yaacov and the children of Lavan (Genesis 31:48); in other words, the pile of stones (and those scattered in abundance on the heap) must mark the eternal boundary between the Arameans (children of Lavan) and the Jewish tribes on the eastern side of the Jordan River. The writing thus emphasizes that what was done is a fact, because the eastern side of the Jordan was a permanent settlement of the tribes of the children of Israel and that other elders of the Israelites and of the Arameans already determined the borders.

* * * * *

The eastern side of the Jordan River - this was an ancient inheritance for the Israelites, the cradle of their cherished homeland, before they occupied the land of Canaan.

* * * * *

The song of Bil'am, who turned from one who curses to one who blesses; the marvelous song that says “How goodly are thy tents, Yaacov” and “It is a people that shall dwell alone and not be reckoned among the nations” (Exodus 23, 24) portions of the eastern side of the Jordan River and its background, the hatred, the powerlessness and fear of the Moabites before the tribes of Israel.

* * * * *

At the beginning of the book you will find the name of the eastern side of the Jordan: “These are the words which Moses spoke to all Israel on the other side of the Jordan” etc. (Deuteronomy 1:1). Soon after, you find another mention: “Beyond the Jordan, in the land of Moab, Moshe began to declare this Torah” etc. (Deuteronomy 1:5).

* * * * *

The eastern side of the Jordan plays an important role in the influence of prophetic culture in the creation of poetry and the concept of the unity of faith, the people, and the land. It is clear to me that at the present moment, when evil peoples are calling for the destruction of our lives, not just as a group but as people, the annexation of the eastern side of the Jordan to the area of the homeland is an ideal, not the reality. But it is important for us that we do not, in our consciousness, diminish the value of the eastern side of the Jordan to the rest of the country, that we do not despair of it, and so - one day we will dwell there.

(From his articles: “The Hebrew Irredenta and Reflection in the Tanakh” Printed in “Kovetz HaYovel” in honor of the principal of the Gymnasia and the editor of the Tarbut magazine in Kovel, Mr. Asher Frankfort, on the occasion of his 50th birthday (1888 - 1938) and in honor of the 17th anniversary of the founding of the Gymnasia (1921 - 1938). The journal appeared in 1938, edited by Yosef Avrekh, may G-d avenge his blood).


[Page 216]

Prominence

In honor of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Birth
of Mr. Asher Frankfort, may God avenge his blood

by Yosef Avrech

Translated by Amy Samin

As a student of the school established by Mefitzei Hahaskalah in Russia in the first decade of the twentieth century, who intended to assimilate at the time when many were fleeing from the heder and the yeshiva to Skalah and enlightenment, it was difficult to imagine

 

Principal of the Hebrew Gymnasia,
Mr. Asher Frankfort,
may God avenge his blood

 

[Page 217]

that the young man, Frankfort, a Skalah protégé, would serve up - along with the Tanakh and the Hebrew language - various delicacies from Karilov, Pushkin, Larmontov and others, going against the stream and making an inverse flight from the Maskil El Dal school to the yeshivas in Kovel and Brisk. And about two years later, to the Russian school in Kovel and later to the trade school and to the small gymnasia in Brisk. Afterward he graduated from the institute for commercial science in Kiev, in order to later establish a Hebrew gymnasia and become the guardian of its physical and spiritual development.

And when Frankfort left, crowned with the degree of bachelor of commercial science and economics, the World War was in progress. He tried to make use of his education obtained in the institute and did commercial clerical work. He was made a senior clerk in a large contracting office in the field of bridge and road construction.

Later, he also worked in commerce. In spite of that, he did not neglect the most important kind of public work of that time. He became a member of the aid committee for Jews impacted by the war. Later he joined the aid committee for the victims of the Ukrainian pogroms during the time of the Russian Revolution.

The entrance of the Poles into Kiev made it possible for him to return to the city of his birth as a repatriate, not just in its simplest meaning, but a spiritual repatriate to Hebrew culture in his former homeland. Soon after his return, he began his efforts to establish the Hebrew gymnasia.

He made a daring leap, causing amazement in the eyes of his acquaintances and friends. The alrightniks among them were astounded: respectable, profitable businessmen had been assembled, was Frankfort planning to open a religious school for girls? Even more, they were amazed by his lobbying efforts among the curators and ministers: a gymnasia where the language of instruction was to be Hebrew? It was indeed a wondrous riddle, whose solution would be extremely difficult.

And where would they find textbooks in the various subjects written in the Hebrew language? “How can a language that has been frozen and lifeless for hundreds of years serve for all of the concepts and expressions of these times? How strange!” People suggested that he open a gymnasia where the language of instruction would be Polish. But he, Frankfort, answered them with the words that Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakai said to Vespasian: “Give me Yavneh and its sages.”

And in the offices of the curators and the ministers, they were amazed. But the great miracle of the rebirth of Poland, which had been lively and filled the being of every Pole - served as a backdrop for he who explained to them the vision the revival of our culture, and that vision its place in the hearts of those who could make a difference. The idea of the culture was put into practice, giving it flesh and blood, like in Rovna, Bialystok and Vilna, so the gymnasia in Kovel was founded.

Of all of the awful problems the principal had to solve, the worst of all was

[Page 218]

the question of the sources of income for the institution. The accepted assumption was that an educational institution with the idealistic goal of changing values must rely on the means of the Tarbut company and be supported by them and by other public funds. Frankfort, however, solved the problem in an entirely different manner. The gymnasia was funded by tuition fees paid by the parents.

However, occasionally it had legal and moral support and, occasionally, also material help from the center. But the institution did not depend on the expectation of help from the center, if he had it would soon have the same destiny as Frishman, and would go bankrupt and perish.

Kovel was not a well-to-do city, not by its population and not by its finances, and there were more high school level educational institutions than were warranted. The paradox of Frankfort's activities was that the institution which logically should have depended on outside help, had a life of its own and paid taxes to the center.

The vitality of Tarbut institutions served as a typical sign of their right to exist, and the solid ground upon which the idea of Tarbut was based. But along with that it served to prove the administrative strength and talent of the gymnasia's founder and principal.

The days of crisis came, which even now have not completely passed, and poverty also came knocking on the doors of the institution. The faces of the teachers and their families bore witness to those lean years. But in spite of everything they were steadfast.

… Thus he carried on, continuing his work up until the new Olympian leap - the construction of the building. First the building: the authorities would not allow the institution to carry on in its old building, which it was feared might collapse. On the other hand, it would be difficult to find another location in which the rent would not consume all of the operating income. Therefore, a new building must be constructed.

And if you say: the institution doesn't have enough money to clear its debts and the rent from previous years, how would it be possible to think about such a thing as constructing a new building? Some would say, that is why we must build, since the institution does not have the funds to pay large amounts in rent year after year.

It would seem that the answer is both paradoxical and lacking in logic: an enchanted circle without any opening. And here you discover the greatness of the man we are honoring. That idea, which garnered him supporters in the meetings of the go-getters of Tarbut, and with the community leader M. Pearl, to whom it seemed a nice hallucination lacking any basis in reality, took on an actual shape under the initiative of Frankfort.

What hidden strength bubbled and flowed within him. Vigor overflowed his banks like a lava flow from a volcano, spreading out and inflaming everything in its path. Thus

[Page 219]

his strength ignited a tremendous bonfire of achievement and creativity. All of the members of the group of excellent businessmen were amazed at the shrewd combinations and transactions of the man we are honoring: purchasing and clearing the land, and making a down payment for the hauling of the building materials. They were enchanted by his marvelous ingenuity, like an eagle's flight, the tremendous initiative of “seven miles in one step” of A. Frankfort.

The derisive smiles and laughter in the mustaches disappeared. Where was the paradox? Everything was so real, so logical and sensible. The businessmen were electrified, and girded their strength for the gathering of subscriptions and contributions (financial, materials, and building blocks) for the building project.

And the results - the grand laying of the cornerstone before a large audience, and all mouths that had been filled with claims that his boasts of a tremendous initiative were unrealistic, and who had said that it would be worthwhile to see how and when the building would actually be completed, were suddenly empty. One of the official guests at the occasion said this: “Now, this premise: Frankfort now stands at a miniature matriculation exam. He will take the full examination when construction is complete.” In other words: “There is still a long way to go.” And hand to hand, back to back, and above all the taskmaster - the honoree - with his piercing glance, demanding work and effort from the members like a taskmaster. When people started to relax their will and or become impatient, his raspy voice would echo secretly in the heart and the brain: “Get up and work! Get up and do!”

Only through ruses, juggling, and infusions - that is to say, of money - from the jugs to the well, I mean the budget of the institution, its salaries, the salaries of its personnel, loans, deferred payments, did the construction work continue and the walls rise up, tile by tile, and after the affair of the bricks, the affair of the beams and the joists, and after that the affair of the tin. It was expected of the Tarbut building. And only the eyes of the honoree, blazing with a sickly glow, and his focused face and his heart weakening inside of him, his eyes rolled slightly with the irrational element in his vigor, which was inexhaustible, from the painful affront to our culture, the great culture of an anguished nation which has no shelter; this culture, which was not inherited from the sacrifices and “did not win light in a windfall,” but which was carved from its heart and its pain.

And the honoree dredged up strength from his personal pain and sorrow, if you do not do something big, the fruit of his work which he loved so well would be for nothing. The same personal insult, the same danger of disappointment that spurred on his initiative also spurred the act of construction until all was complete, and through to its decoration. The building was erected. Frankfort sat for the “full matriculation exam” and passed it.

(From the Jubilee File of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the birth of Asher Frankfort of blessed memory and in honor of the 17th Anniversary of the establishment of the gymnasia.)


[Page 222]

About the Kovel Voice and Its Editor
(Passing Thoughts)

by S. Bama

Translated by Amy Samin

In the dim mists of time the prominent and upright figure of the editor of the Kovel Voice comes to life: his gaunt face, his bespectacled eyes, and his pointed nose gave him an ascetic appearance: his somewhat fragmented speech, his coarse, deep, cutting voice seemingly fashioned to convince you with its internal logic. His long legs bore him, a busy public figure, to every public gathering. As a faithful Zionist, he preferred national interest to inter-factional conspiracies. He didn't take anyone into account, and he criticized those who deserved it with his honed and witty pen.

* * *

“A public figure”: indeed he showed up everywhere he was expected to be, and everywhere he was not. He succeeded in gathering around himself a faithful group of workers who were altruistically devoted with all their hearts and souls to the newspaper. His “agents” could be found at all public activities, both general and Jewish. With his long sharp nose he sniffed out and found the right people for the city council or the starostwo (eldership) on the one hand, and the community council on the other.

* * *

He brought the very best of the “intelligentsia” of the city to the newspaper and still wasn't satisfied. He was in contact with well-known authors, and got their permission to reprint in his paper the best writings of the journalists from the general-Jewish papers, and every week he provided the city's residents with articles of both passing and enduring content.

* * *

He was an autodidact, but he was able to adopt modern ways of expression. More than once people were amazed at the phenomenon of a man of broad scope who was indeed active in the province, was involved in general political and public-Jewish life, and who remarked on every public event worthy of acknowledgement, both large and small.

* * *

His writing was simple and to the point, he knew every hidden wrinkle of the spoken language, and wove it into his written words. His written expressions were logical, detailed,

[Page 223]

comprehensive and convincing. It did not lack an iota of modernism on the one hand, and on the other was based on the popular and juicy gleichvertel (witticism). His articles achieved his goal: to stroke or caress those who deserved it, and to strike or injure those who deserved it.

* * *

The Kovel Voice had a general character, but everyone knew that it was a Zionist newspaper. Among the provincial newspapers in the region, it was the most notable and had the highest level of writing and journalists. And more than once it was quoted by the general-Jewish newspaper in Warsaw, the capital. And when political competitors appeared - such as the Bund - and wanted to muddy the city of Kovel's Zionist character, the Kovel Voice rose up with a fighting spirit and national pride, and in the end was victorious.

* * *

“Well then, Mr. S.B.,” someone said to me, following my participation in the big memorial service for Herzl that was held in the Great Synagogue. “Perhaps you could honor our newspaper with the fruits of your pen?” You couldn't refuse the pleasant tone of Ben-Avinoam - such was his accepted nickname - and in the next Friday edition there appeared an article entitled “Bein ha-Metzarim” (“Between the Straits”), which was given pride of place.

* * *

It is the Friday before you make aliyah (immigrate) to Eretz Yisrael. The printing machine is spewing out the newspaper's last galley proofs. The fresh-inked letters dirty the hands of the editor as he fixes his glance on the greetings for the immigrant. Tears roll down his cheeks and fall onto the soft, fibrous paper of the newspaper. “Send your list from there and I will be comforted by it,” he says, and from his mouth escape words with many meanings: “Who knows when I will have the opportunity to make aliyah to Eretz Yisrael?” He always gave the lists from Eretz Yisrael a place at the top of the paper, though he never did have the chance to go there himself.

* * *

When you go to Eretz Yisrael and stand on Mt. Scopus in the journalism department of the Hebrew University, and page through the annuals of the Kovel Voice which are in the archives there, you are able to stand at a geographical distance and see the value of the newspaper and the position that it had in Jewish-general life. And if Jewish Kovel will continue to live on in the Jewish consciousness, the Kovel Voice and its editor will have played no small part in that.

 

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