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Remember

14,000 Kremenets Jews
May Amalek be cut off for all generations
Heaven calls out for mercy
Present comfort to those who wait for it
December 2, 1950

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Kremenitzer Wolyner Benevolent Association

Organized October 1915

Organizers
ALEX MINTZ
BENJAMIN BARSHOP
SAM BARSHOP
HARRY BIENSTOCK
ABRAHAM GOLDBERG
JOE COHEN
 
Officers
HARRY WIENER Ex-Chairman
I. SALMOWITZ Chairman
ISAAC FISHERMAN Vice Chairman
M. REIKIS Treasurer
JACK BARSHOP Financial Secretary
HARRY BIENSTOCK and I. SILVERSTEIN Hospitalers
MORRIS HOFFMAN Recording Secretary
LOU SIEGEL Chairman of Cemetery

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Seated, left to right: Jack Barshop, Isidore Salmowitz, Isaac Fisherman, and Mendel Reikis
Standing, left to right: Harry Wiener, Benjamin Barshop, Mendel Bronfield, Joe Blay, and Alex Mintz

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An Anniversary for a Future

H. Gelernt

Every anniversary should be celebrated as something that happened. Whether for an individual or for a group, a collective, a community, the anniversary conveys the solemnity from the day of birth until the lived present.

But there is a great distinction in the feeling of the celebration. For an individual's birthday, the person and the individual moment take the foreground. For a community, however, the business involves activities, good deeds, the collective will, and idealism in the service of doing good for the community.

For an individual, the solemnity is often combined with a feeling of nostalgia for one's younger years that were colored by a magical grace for a broad and happy “tomorrow.” But folk wisdom tells us about the value of such nostalgia: “Wisdom comes after years” … the “after” does not mean “according to,” but simply in the course of time.

Quite different is the community's solemnity. Such an anniversary offers perspective. It offers stimulation for a better future, for fulfilling activities for the community. The deeds of the past, of “yesterday,” awaken the desire, the eagerness and enthusiasm, for a better, more intensive effort in the approaching “tomorrow.”

A community's accomplishments are rooted in human history. They will be anchored forever in the future. An individual, too, is esteemed according to his activities for the community, but those deeds belong to the community.

A wise student once explained that the word va-yehi—“and it was”—refers to woe, either because something was bad before and who knows what tomorrow will bring, or it was good before and it is a shame that that goodness is gone. For the collective, for the community, ve-haya—“it will be”—is always more important. We always look for a better, an improving, “tomorrow.”

So, too, the elements of fate work differently for an individual and for a community. When an individual dies in an unnatural way, the grief of those who remain is surely deep, but it tends to be temporary, momentary, passing. “Heaven and earth have promised that what the earth covers will be forgotten….” It is far different for a community, Year in and year out, generation after generation will sigh, and the people will voice their sorrow. With tears the people recite “These I Remember”[1] every Yom Kippur. And they remember with sadness….

An individual passes, but a community remains.

* * *

A generation of Jews from Kremenets has been planted on American shores. A generation of “your people,” the Jews, of “shears and iron,” have planted in themselves nostalgia for their place of origin. The current Kremenets landsmanshaft feels nostalgia for 35 years ago.

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Following in the footsteps of their ancestors, they have reestablished their traditional way of life.

The Jews have refashioned the stones of their old way of life, put them in new garb, but with traditional domestic warmth. In this new way of living their lives, they have committed themselves to the spiritual ties of their ancestors. Simplicity and artlessness characterize every turn, every effort at working for the betterment of the whole.

All the old fellowships from our old home exist in our unique Kremenets landsmanshaft. There, there was a Visiting the Sick Society, and here, there is a hospital group; there, there was a loan society, and here, there is a loan fund; there, there were secret gifts, and here, there is a relief fund; there, there was help for the downtrodden, and here, there is relief; there, there was a burial society, and here, there is a burial and cemetery committee.

Also, our old home's purely traditional life has been transformed and upheld. In our old home, there was the Holy Sabbath and escorting the Sabbath queen, and here we have Sabbath evening gatherings with refreshments; there we had bar mitzvahs, and here we have Jewish training for young people; there, the wedding week (the seven blessings), and here celebrations for the landsmanshaft; there a board for memorializing those who have passed, and here books of remembrance.

The old traditional character is gone forever, but the spiritual values of “yesterday” have intertwined with the new character of life and activities of the Kremenets landsmanshaft, bringing together our old and new homes.

The anniversary of the existence and impact of 35 years; the manner and modesty of the activities during this existence are unique, because they stem from their place of origin. The mild climate of Kremenets may also have affected their disposition.

The city of Kremenets is over 600 years old. Its geographical locale is blessed with hilly mildness, which arises both in the summer's green softness and the winter's white snow.

There is a legend about a grandson of the Baal Shem Tov called the “Angel,” who spent some time there. He lived in a back alley behind the Old Study Hall in a low second-floor room in Moshe Velds' house. The front windows overlooked Tzelem Hill.

Early one morning, a Hasid quietly opened the door of the rabbi's room. He stood in amazement at the threshold as he saw the stooped figure of the “Angel,” whose gaze was focused entirely on the hill. The sharper his gaze became, the more distorted his grimace became, and the more doubled over his body became. When the “Angel” was aroused from his fantasy and saw the Hasid, he gave a deep sigh and said, “Such a small bit of dust, but it makes itself so big ….”

Since then, people say, the Jews of Kremenets have understood the meaning of “He raises the poor from the dust, lifts up the needy from the refuse heap” (Psalm 113:7), and so modesty in life has become their second nature.

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Thus did the Jews live in their old home. As two survivors recount, they are there still, but with their internal persistent Jewish value destroyed by the German and Ukrainian monsters.

Also, Yitschak Ber Levinzon, the severe critic of Jewish life in his time, treated the Kremenets community gently, and his approval accompanied the Jews of Kremenets to America.

This landsmanshaft was born not from a feeling of jealousy for those landsmanshaften that already existed, not from trustees' games or other frivolities, but simply from a longing for spiritual rest in a corner that seemed like home.

There were five, like the fingers of a hand, who were present at the birth of the name Kremenets in America: Mintz, Barshop, Bienstock, A. Goldman, G. Cohen. They wanted to experience spiritually a real Kremenets environment. People arrived here laden with a burden of political security. They had already had the experience of striking and communicating by secret messengers, of mysterious rumors—parties of young people, given wings by romantic notions of liberating idealism—now in a free land they longed for a proper disposition. Certainly, among the daily worries over earning a living, the longing for a spiritual word, which occupied a few, quickly grew.

The aforementioned group decided to found a Kremenets Landsmanshaft. Its main focus at first was cultural evenings. Each one gladly paid 10 cents a week to cover expenses. The evenings dedicated to Jewish cultural problems, the Jewish renaissance, to all the areas of Jewish culture, attracted many people. They were so popular that Kremenets Jews from outside New York attended. The number of members gradually increased. Thus the character of the organization was formed, until in a ceremony with Jewish music, it occupied a hired hall and was crowned with the name the Kremenitzer Wolyner Benevolent Association.

So, too, did they establish practical activities for their members in the form of reciprocal help, supplying required medical help, and providing its own burial area. This symbolizes our unity from cradle to grave.

For the entire 35 years, these people have, whether individually or communally, taken care of their own families in the old home or for the community institutions that once existed there, such as the Talmud Torah, the hospital, the old people's home, and all the others, as well as for the modern school, kindergarten, trade school, reading library, and others.

This is an anniversary rooted in the traditional past, in the examples of “yesterday,” with its face turned toward “tomorrow.” Just as our people as a whole preserve their unity as they are scattered around the world, so, too, the people of Kremenets collectively combine the fate of the old home with all the Kremenetsers who are scattered around the world.

An anniversary of “once,” looking toward the future.

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Restoring the Home of Yitschak Ber Levinzon
(Born October 2, 1788; died February 13, 1860)

Yisrael Margolis
Kremenets, 1937

What people once did to immortalize the memory of Yitschak Ber Levinzon.

About 50 years ago (in 1906), a group led by Dr. M. Litvak, Pinchas Rom, Rabbi B. Konin, Leyb Shumski, and myself called a meeting for people who were interested in the idea of immortalizing the name of our most prominent citizen, the scholar and philosopher Y. B. Levinzon. Between 70 and 80 people attended the meeting, including Enlightened ones and those interested in culture. Discussed at the meeting was the question posed by the organizers of his to immortalize the memory of Y. B. Levinzon.

After an exchange of ideas, a decision was taken at the meeting to publish in the Jewish press in the Russian province an announcement to all Jews to gather funds with which to buy the little house where Yitschak Ber Levinzon lived and wrote and to fashion a city library and reading room there. To this end, a democratic vote was taken to establish a steering committee with the following members:

Chair, Rabbi B. Konin; treasurer, P. Rom; and two members, H. L. Shumski and myself.

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After the publication of the first announcement, a deluge of money descended on Kremenets from all parts of the Russian province, particularly from what was called Lithuania. Jews who were adherents of Levinzon sent money and thanked us for undertaking the project. Meanwhile, we sought permission from the government for the reading room and waited for permission to buy the little house where Levinzon lived and which was now a tavern. But the czarist government maintained that libraries were ridiculous, particularly next to reading rooms. It did not please them, and they refused to give permission. Then another meeting was called to consider the question of how to buy the building and get rid of the tavern, because it was a disgrace for Levinzon's house to contain a tavern.

It was decided to buy the house under a private person's name, for which there was a democratic vote (unlike today) under secret ballot, and the vote was to buy it under the name of the following: Dr. M. Litvak, Leyb Shumski, and myself.

We bought the building, got rid of the tavern, and waited for better times, when people could determine the will of Levinzon's descendants. So things lasted until the World War [World War I], and during the war, no one dealt with the matter. Meanwhile, most of the former members passed away, so that the survivors, and those in whose name the building had been purchased, consulted among themselves and decided that the building should be given to a legal organization rather than belonging to private individuals who were no longer alive. Sadly, today there is no one left besides myself to represent the community, and we decided to transfer the building to the only legal organization that had the right to buy it—ORT.

 

[Advertisement from Kremenets Life (Kremenitser Leben), 15 Kislev 1937]

Greetings

In the name of all the institutions and all who donated to Kremenets relief in New York
we applaud our devoted friend and director of relief
Mr. Benjamin Barshop and your wife, on the occasion of your silver anniversary
and we wish you good fortune and good health toward the celebration of your golden anniversary.

We take this opportunity to send you our best greetings and heartfelt thanks, all members of the relief organization, who gave so much help to our city.

The Help Distribution Committee of New York Relief for Kremenets

 

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A Lament for Home

Helen Weinberg

I long for you ceaselessly,
My dearly beloved city of Kremenets.
So often I dream of you,
Dream of you without ceasing.
You occupy a great place in my thoughts,
For how could I forget you even for a moment?
My heart longs so strongly for you,
For every pebble and for your very walls,
For the buildings where I first saw the world.
Where are you now, my town, my home?
Why was your body so ferociously slaughtered?
I seek you, my beloved,
I live my whole life with you.
Without you, my world, what value have
Strife and struggle?
I will no longer find rest,
And I will no longer have good fortune
Until I can stop thinking
About the memorial prayer for you.
As in a beautiful, mild, rich May,
So will you live in me forever,
My dear town with your little byways,
Adorned with greenery, with flowers and trees.
For you, my town, my light,
I will create a monument.
Forever in my life and thoughts
I will haunt you, long for you.
Forever will I hear the sound
Of our town's song.

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To My Vice-Chair

I. Salmowitz

I have already said that all of us from the Kremenets organization are bound together as brothers.

We have differences among us in our characters, in our cultural backgrounds, and each of us demonstrates our own approaches to work.

As in any community project, what is critical is what results from debate.

Our brother Isaac Fisherman, my vice-chair, is always preoccupied with his feeling for harmony in his work. He is always true to his word, and when he feels that an appeal for help must be strengthened, he always worries about results, so that the treasury should not be empty; he is always ready to make up the sum out of his own pocket.

I feel his generosity, his fidelity to his work, and as I do, so each of us treasures the great value of his good deeds.

* * *

For the Community at Large

Alex Mintz

The foundation of a community is fellow feeling among individuals. Now I will recall some moments from 35 years ago, when the Kremenets organization was established.

World War I separated those of us who were here from those who were there. We could not even hear from each other. I often thought about their fate there, and I thought about what I could do. But “One is like none”… I thought, so one had to start an organization that would have the strength to aid all of those unfortunates who would come to us for help after the war.

Thought and done. I called together the first meeting of several people, namely: the Barshop brothers, Bienstock, the Goldbergs, and the Goldmans.

There I made a motion that we call a meeting of all Kremenetsers who were here in order to establish a Kremenets organization for that purpose.

All the participants contributed a fixed sum on the spot. The meeting was called, both for those who lived in New York and around New York.

But not everyone thinks alike …. Of the 200 who gathered, only 16 were attracted to the idea of an organization. Thus the with a nucleus of 16 people, the Kremenitzer Wolyner Benevolent Association was founded. As time passed, our membership increased.

For the past 35 years, our organization has done a great deal of humanitarian work. At any time and in any place, across the ocean, wherever Kremenetsers in need may be found, our organization has helped, with love and full hearts.

Such a spirit should accompany us in our ongoing work.

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Our Holiday for Everyone

I. Salmowitz

In our organization's current anniversary year, I feel a special honor in being your chairman. I feel just the way parents feel when they conduct their youngest daughter to the wedding canopy.

This is the 35th anniversary of an organization in which everyone is knitted and bound together as though they were a single person with one heart and one soul; an organization that is small numerically but large in spirit, dominated by the feeling “one for all and all for one.” Such success is a sign of brotherhood, of family. I am proud that I have the honor to be the chair of this noble Kremenets organization. I feel fortunate for the trust that was put in me to be elected to this position. A man begins to know himself when people around him show him such attention. Therefore, I feel the great responsibility I have for the organization, to carry out the sacred aspects of our work honorably.

In my memory, many moments in our organization's life are awakened, our activities here and for our old home; how strongly we here are bound to them there.

For 35 years we have done more than our weak abilities would seem to have allowed. But all our deeds were characterized by heart, soul, and sincerity.

At such an exalted moment, it is my deep desire to say to all of you, my Kremenets brothers and sisters, from my heart:

May you be blessed with long lives, strength, and skill, so that you may continue your holy work for our own, for mankind, and for the world.

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Students graduating from the ORT trade school, supported by the Kremenets Relief Organization in New York

 


Translation Editor's Note

  1. “These I Remember” (Eleh Ezkerah) is the story of 10 rabbis martyred by the Roman emperor Hadrian. Return

 

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