by Aba Lando
Translated by Rabbi Molly Karp
Upon a not-high mound, there are some who say natural and there are those who think artificial, stood remnants of the ancient fortress, Gedimin Fortress. In our days there remained of it only four walls, which, according to the words of old people, were higher in their time, except that they crumbled and went because of a lack of diligence about their maintenance.
Remnants of a tower remained on the north-east corner of the fortress. Across from the northern wall, on the steepest slope of the mound, an ancient pine tree lifts up its powerful body, which stands all year in its dark greenery, its arms spread out in broad movement towards the top of the ancient wall, as if in an exchange of words with it, and as if it is protecting someone below it. Children who happen upon the place sometimes at night times, in their passing through in the darkness the narrow alley, which is between the fortress and the municipal school, a kind of easy feeling passes over them, as if their ear received ghosts telling… A rumor spreads among the children, which was transmitted by the elders, that a king and queen are hidden beneath the tree. And another tells: a treasure is hidden in one of the corners of the fortress, but no one knows its exact place. There are those who tell that there already were curious ones, treasure hunters, who tried to dig in the ground, to uncover the treasure, but their end was bitter, for a hidden power pulled them in….
No one knew the name of the king who was buried there, and when he ruled. The matter is also hidden from us until today. It is a legend and we will tell it.
The Source of the Name Lida
When was the city of Lida founded? There is no certain answer to this question. There are those who state the year 1180. Its first settlers were, apparently, members of one of the Lithuanian tribes that dwelt in that area from ancient days, as it was possible to understand from the Lithuanian source lydimas, whose meaning in Lithuanian is forest clearing (a section of it whose trees they felled, which was surrounded by forest on all sides), in memory of ancient days, a time when all the land around the city was covered with virgin forests.
From then the lines of forest grew farther and farther away from the city; their trees were used as building material for the villages and towns that arose in the area, with the growth of the settlement, and part of them stretched along the adjacent rivers, the Dzitva and the Neman, crossing the country. Yet even in our days there remained extensive surrounding areas of pine and fir forests, in which one who enters their entanglements will grow tired trying to find the way back. And when you go out to the edge of the forest, or when you go up to an elevated place, the forests are revealed before you from afar as a continuous blue ribbon, which wraps the area as in a shroud of mystery.
Within the perfect plain the northern pike almost roils the frigid waters of a river more correct, a stream that gushes for a distance of a number of kilometers from the city into the river Dzitva, a tributary of the Neman. On its path within the forest, it collects on its right bank the waters of its narrow tributary, which is almost dry during the days of summer, and rises in the days of the snow runoff the Kamionka.
The definition of the word lideka in Polish is water wolf.
Indeed, in our days we have not seen the waters of the stream teeming with fish, but maybe, within the hundreds of years that went by from the time when they spoke Lithuanian in this province, the population of the stream changed, just as changes also occurred in the city itself and its population.
There does not remain here a memory of the Lithuanian origin of the first settlers, except in the names of few families of the descendants of the nobility (the Szlachtas), such as: Romeiko, Meilon, Yeinoshatish, Yudku, and many others. Yet the Lithuanian language was not heard in Lida and her nearby surroundings for hundreds of years. The Christian population mostly spoke Belarusian. This language was, for the course of hundreds of years, in the period of Poland before its partition, the official language of Lithuania. In a later period, Belarusian descended from its official status (after the partition of Poland and the Russian language gaining control in the ruling circles), and was turned into the language of only the simple masses, in the city and in the village, while the language in the mouth of the Lithuanian nobility was Polish. It was possible to hear Lithuanian in the Lida area only at a distance of tens of kilometers away from it, in the villages adjacent to Radon. The primitive Lithuanian culture submitted to the higher culture of the neighbors to the west: the Poles, and to the east: the Russians, in both language and religion.
The History of the Fort
The Lida area, which was populated from ancient days by Lithuanian tribes, as we have already mentioned, was conquered in the middle of the 11th century on the civil calendar by Russian princes, who came from Kiev, and reached the river Viliya. For about 100 years the river separated the government of the Lithuanian princes from the Russian conquerors: the Lithuanian side was to the right of the river and the Russian side was on the left. In the middle of the 12th century, when the Russian princes were defeated by the Tatar invader, the Lithuanian princes returned and conquered the territories that were taken out of the hands of their ancestors, and they even expanded the borders of their rule. It is possible to suppose that already in the same
(From an old picture in the booklet of M. Simlevitz Lida y Lidsky Zamuk)
A Picture: (stylized)
The Work of the Hands of a Soldier-Artist From the Period of the First World War
period there were fortifications apparently wood fortifications in this place, upon which in the future the city of Lida would be built.
The name of the city of Lida is first explicitly mentioned in the ancient chronicles in the year 1330, in the context of the history of the king Gedimin. After Gedimin set his capitol in the city of Vilna, he saw a need to protect it and his kingdom, which was awakening to a new life and new development, before invaders from the east and the south, Russians and Tatars as one. He decided therefore to turn Lida, at a distance of about 89 kilometers south of Vilna, into a stronghold and shield against the invaders.
Years of hard effort were invested in the erection of the new fort, which was built of stone, in place of the old wooden fortifications. The work began in 1323; groups of prisoners from Vilna were engaged in it, under the supervision of expert craftsmen who were brought from Kiev. According to various descriptions, the fort was surrounded by water on three sides (the Lideka stream and the Kamionka), and on its fourth side, the northern, a deep trench extended. A drawbridge connected the fort to the other side of the trench. The thickness of the walls at their bases was about 2 meters, and their height was about 10 meters. Inside the fort, whose length was about 75 meters on all sides, were wooden buildings, and in them, in addition to permanent and temporary (in wartime) living spaces for their inhabitants, were weapons depots and emergency food stores. In its two corners, the north-eastern and the south-western, rose two lookout towers. In the latest period, there was also fixed here the seat of the district court (sąd ziemski) and its archives. Likewise there was a basement for a prison.
After the death of Gedimin, his son Keistut ruled in Lida, which was later transferred to his brother Algorad. In the days of Algorad's successor, his son Jagielo started days of bloody wars in Lida between this last and his uncle Keistut Vitovt. The city was set on fire at the hands of Vitovt's army, who besieged and captured it.
Finally, a peace treaty was made between the two rivals. Vitovt was recognized as Arch Duke of Lithuania for the rest of his life, and control of the Lida Fort also passed into his hands. He continued to fortify the walls and according to what is told, turned it into one of the strongest Lithuanian fortresses of that period.
In the year 1422, Lida saw celebrations and festivities, about which over the course of many years there were legends amongst the Lithuanian residents of the area. This was after the marriage of the old King Jagielo (for the fourth time) to the Princess Sophia of Kiev. After the wedding, which was celebrated in Novogrudok, all the guests of the upper echelon, and among them Pope Nuncius, were invited to Lida for a party that went on for weeks, Vitovt found an opportunity to show the generosity of his heart and hand in welcoming guests.
Division of Estates
The Lida region was very small in the period mentioned. Until the end of the 16th century, its borders were the river Neman, Dzitva, Gauja, and the Zhyzhma. All the lands of the region and the surrounding area, its yards and its people, were the property of the Arch Duke. However, already from the 14th century the division of estates began from the assets of the Arch Duke to the smaller princes, to the members of the Polish-Lithuanian nobility (Pany) for various special services, in war and in days of peace, and likewise to the clergy, as inalienable assets of the churches.
With the division of the estates from the assets of the Arch Duke, the element of the Principality grew stronger.
After the death of Vitovt the city was again consumed by fire, when the Prince Svidrigailo, in his conflict with King Jagielo, laid siege to the Lida Fortress, but he was defeated and retreated.
In 1506, in the days of Alexander Jagielo, the King of Poland and the Arch Duke of Lithuania, the Tatars extended into the area. A general induction was announced in the country, and Lida was fixed as the assembly place of the reserve corps. King Alexander came to the Lida Fortress to stand at the head of the army that was going out to battle with the Tatars, which, according to what was told in the Russian chronicles at a distance of a parasang (mile) and a half from the city on all sides, the villages were set on fire and the people were kidnapped and murdered. There is no way to know explicitly from the wording of this story if the city itself also suffered from this attack, or only the rural surroundings at some distance from the city itself.
The old king was transferred meanwhile to Vilna, due to a severe illness that struck him, but the Tatars were struck and warded off.
The Orders of the Regime
The city had an agricultural character. To many of the residents of the city there were allocated field plots for their private use (a sixth to a quarter of a voluka to each person, which is about 30-45 dunam) in exchange for set lease fees. There was not yet a local government, and the government and the law were in the hands of the agent of the Prince, the Starosta, whose residence was in the folwark (farm) of the fort, in a place known to residents of the city of our time by the name the farma. There the tenants were obligated to submit the lease fees once a year, on St. Martin's day. (According to the words of Simlevitz, there was still in this place a government farm at the end of the 19th century. From here, apparently, was the name farma.) From the time that a local government was set up in the city (Magistrate) the Burmeister would collect these payments and bring them on a set day to the administration of the farm. In addition to the lease fees, the residents of the city were responsible for specific services to the farm of the Prince, on the days of the harvest and the like, and likewise for various public works: repair of roads and bridges and the like, according to the demands of the government.
In the year 1568 the regions of Eisishok, Vasilishok, Ostrin, Radon, Kinivsk, and Dovitzik were joined to the city of Lida's area of jurisdiction. The city's value went up as an administrative district and judicial center. The city continued to expand and in the middle of the 17th century, in the days of Jan Kazimir, it was considered among the established cities, in which there was a substantial population , according to the words of one of the sources 15,000 souls, among them 160 Jews. The Magdeburg Rights were granted to the city. Market days were held in the city every Monday, and twice a year, fairs, which were approved by the Sejm in the year 1611.
According to various documents from the 17th century, there were then already in the village, besides the market, which was known to all of us, four streets: Vilna Street (whose name the Polish government changed, after the conquest of the city in 1918 to Sobelska which extended from the market across Vilna Way, and whose continuation, from the market to the fort, was called at that time Zamkova; the third street Kamionka (called this also in our time until the end of the First World War and then its name was changed by the Polish government to May 3rd). The fourth street Keshiva (The Crooked. The reason for the name is not known, since this street was actually fairly straight.) This street began at the market and ended at Kamionka Street. Its continuation, up to the fort, was built only at the beginning of the 19th century and at that time was called Carmelitzka.
In those same documents the synagogue courtyard is also mentioned (shkolni dvur).
The Beginning of the Jewish Settlement
When did the Jews come to Lida, and from whence did they come? There is not a clear answer to this question.
On the map attached to the study of Y. Shafir on the spread of the Jewish settlement in Poland and Lithuania, Lida is marked among the Jewish communities that arose in Lithuania in the first quarter of the 17th century. Apparently on the basis of the fact that in a reliable historical document the Jewish community of Lida is mentioned only in the year 1620 (in the Lithuanian State Ledger in which is listed the decision of the State Council to add Lida, regarding the collection of the head tax, to the Grodno region.) Without a definite prior mention, he apparently adopted this date as the beginning of the Lida community.
However, M. Simlevitz, in his booklet which is mentioned about the history of Lida, which is based on historical primary source material, tells of the Privilege that King Stephen Bathory granted to the Jews of Lida in the year 1579, to erect a synagogue in the city. In light of the seriousness of the author, in any event this information deserves attention.
There is also a hint of a Jewish settlement in Lida even earlier, and if this source of information is also worthy of some reservation, indeed we will not fulfill our obligation if we don't bring it. And so we bring it in its own language, as it was printed in the periodical HaCarmel of Sh. Y. Fein, (Year 1, Av 4, 5621- 1861), in the list of the well-known Karaite investigator Avraham Firkovitz, (who called himself, in his Hebrew writings, Even Reshef,) about the famous rabbi of his time, the commentator, the writer and the kabbalist Reb Moshe HaGolah from Kiev, who lived and worked at the end of the 15th century and the beginning of the 16th.
Firkovitz tells about the manuscript of the book Otzar Nechmad that happened into his hand by chance, in which he found a note about the rabbi in this language: I am the man who saw the trouble when I was fifty-seven years old in the time of our Lord of the Duke Alexander in the year of your altars 5266 
with the coming of the Tatars with Mohammed the son of their king at their head, they came with a huge army to fight for the city of Lida. I was a native of the city of Shadov, I came there to do my work, the work of heaven, and I was also captured by them on Thursday, the 17th of Tamuz in the house of God. Plundered and empty of all my dear ones and all my compositions that I had composed and they exiled me along with the other exiles here, the city of Crimea the Kingdom of the Tatars. And our brothers the rabbinical Jews and the Karaites redeemed us (may God save them and give them life) may God remember them for good Amen…
If we accept this information as authentic, indeed in the year 1506 there was a Jewish community in Lida and in it was a house of God obviously - a synagogue. The rabbi went silent and did not explain the nature of the work of heaven that he came to do in Lida: to serve as rabbi, cantor, ritual slaughterer or teacher? And maybe all of these together, as was customary in those days? And indeed a real Jewish settlement is spoken of.
It is not clear to us why Dr. Y. Shafir did not linger on this revelation by Firkovitz; if due to the diminished value of a town like Lida in his eyes, or maybe, out of a negative attitude towards the personality of Firkovitz, about whose discoveries several researchers of his time (Harkavy, Professor Havelson) expressed doubts and were skeptical about its reliability. In any case, important Jewish historians and writers of our time (Dr. Mark Wishnitzer, Dr. Yisrael Klausner, Dr. Yisrael Tzinberg,) bring this information without reservations.
And from here, there is room for the hypothesis that the Jewish settlement in Lida was even more ancient. It should be remembered that in the year 1495, all the Jews of Lithuania were expelled by order of Arch Duke Alexander (who, perhaps, sought to model himself in this on his contemporaries, Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain; and maybe, to get rid of Jewish creditors and take possession of their assets.) And, only about 8 years later, in 1503, after Alexander was crowned King of Poland (in 1501), the expulsion decree was nullified and the exiled Jews returned to Lithuania. This was in most cases a return to the previous dwelling places; certainly this was also so for the Jews of Lida.
We tarried on this reading at some length because of the importance that we attribute to it, not only regarding research into the events of the days of the Jewish community of Lida alone, but regarding the history of the community of Israel in Lithuania in general.
From the aforementioned Privileges from the year 1579, we learn that in the last quarter of the 16th century, there already was a known Jewish settlement in Lida, which, in the way of the Jewish settlements in the lands of the dispersion, was centered around the synagogue.
For the Jews of Lida there passed several decades of expansion and consolidation. Indeed, not without struggles with the local authorities (the Magistrates) and the Christian professional associations (the tzachim) in places where they had the right of self-governance (Magdeburg Rights). These institutions generally attempted to narrow the steps of the Jews in the cities and to withhold from them the right to engage in commerce and various work.
We do not have any information whatsoever about how this period passed for the Jews of Lida, who already in that time enjoyed self-rule according to The Magdeburg Rights (although the residents of the city were still obligated to specific services to the court.) What is known to us is that in the year 1630 Privilege was granted to the Jews of Lida by order of King Vladislav the Fourth to repair their old synagogue and also to erect a new synagogue, on condition that its height would not exceed that of the Catholic and Pravoslavit churches. It seems that it is possible to learn from this that the Jews of Lida also expanded their boundaries.
Nevertheless, the Lida community for a long time did not emerge from the boundary of a daughter community which was dependent on the Horodna region (Prikahaluk in the Russian document). In an hour when many other small communities in the area are appearing on the tax lists of The State Council of Lithuania (according to the State Ledger), each one with its own assessment, indeed the Lida tax was included in the Horodna tax (Grodno). Perhaps we can deduce from this that the actual origin of the Jewish settlement in Lida was not its beginning but rather a kind of expansion of the Horodna community? It is only known to us that at the beginning of the 18th century, the Lida community made an effort to be freed from this dependence, but with the interference of the government the situation remained the same.
Pogroms and Riots
The Khmelnitsky riots in the years 1648-1649 (The Decrees of '08-09) that shocked Polish Jewry did not afflict Lida, but were heard here as distant thunder. However, not a few years went by before the cup also passed through the regions of Vilna and Lida, when the army of the Russian King Aleksei Mikhailovich, together with Khmelnitsky's Cossack troops, in the year 1655 conquered broad territories in White Russia and in Lithuania, and brought killing and destruction, principally on the Jewish community of Lida in the region (The Decrees of 5415 ). Many of the Jewish residents fled at that time to the countries of western Europe, but many remained and were prey for the teeth of the raging animal. Among the communities that suffered the decrees of 5415  was also the community of Lida.
Calamity followed calamity. In the year 1656, a terrible plague broke out in Lida, which continued for a few years and wreaked havoc on the population, to the degree that all the government institutions in the city were closed. Also the Sejmik (the regional government), which was formed in February 1658, was unable to hold its meetings in the city from fear of the plague, and was therefore transferred to the village of Mito.
Meanwhile the war with Russia was renewed, and in the year 1659, the troops of the invaders once again reached Lida, and blockaded the fort. Despite a vigorous defense, the fort fell into the hands of the enemy. The city was plundered, and its houses set on fire.
Over the course of many years, in the community of Lida there were signs of those same years of pogroms. We already mentioned above the numbers from the period of King Jan Kazimir, which speak of 160 Jewish souls in the midst of 15,000 Christians. Indeed, it was not possible for us to clarify the primary source for this count, and the year to which it refers. It is possible that it is speaking of the years after the Decree of 5415 (1655) which was mentioned above, when a large portion of the Jews of Lida fled, out of fear of the murdering Russian soldiers,
which were it not the case, it is a little dubious that a community, which as early as 1630 approached to build a second new synagogue, did not number more than 160 souls (unless this counting was intended for the needs of the payment of the head tax). In any case, we find that also about 20 years after the stormy and devouring pogroms, the situation of the city was bad in every way, and in general this was the situation for the Jews as well. Because of this, various dispensations were granted to them by order of the king, such as release from the obligation to maintain the soldiers that were camped in the city, maintaining the post (horses), and the like, dispensations that were granted to the Jewish residents as well.
With this, it seems that with the passing of the waves of pogroms, the Lida community began to recover and to establish its institutions anew. In the year 5432, (1671) we find on the Rabbinic Throne in Lida a rabbi great in the Torah, who in his many compositions, revealed and concealed, acquired for himself a name in the European Jewish community, and he was Reb Dovid Lida, who afterwards was taken after honor to serve in the rabbinate of Mainz, and from then went to Amsterdam which is in Holland as Av Beit Din of the Ashkenazi community.
Of the history of this Lida rabbi and the matter of the dispute that broke out between him and his opponents during his time in Amsterdam, we will tell farther on. Here we wanted to mark the period of his sitting as the rabbi of the holy congregation of Lida, as a sign of a rooted and established community.
The Economic Life
On what did the Jews of Lida support themselves? Mainly, apparently, on innkeeping, on commerce in agricultural products that were brought to the city on market days and the regular fairs, and on providing household items needed by the farmers of the area. We find a hint to the occupations of the Jews of Lida in an interesting document from the year 1709 that reached our hands (which we will discuss more farther on) and in it were detailed the items of property of 7 Jews from Lida: houses, shops, distillery vats, merchandise, places of commerce (?).
We find no mention in the text of handwork among the Jews of Lida in that same period. However, that we did not find it is not evidence.
Compered to this, it is told in a document from the year 1680 of two Jews who are mentioned by name: Avraham and Moshe (Movsha) to whom were allocated plots of lands (agricultural) from the king's property, together with many of the Christian residents of Lida. We find here a similarity between the Jews of Lida and the Jews of Horodna (Lida was annexed to it as a daughter community, as was mentioned above), many of whose Jews also owned agricultural plots of land. 
From ancient documents, it is known to us about loans that were given to the Jews of Lida by institutions of the Christian church and by individual Christians:
M. Simlevitz tells in his notebook which is mentioned on a promissory note from November 11, 1688. in the amount of 500 Polish golds (Polish zlotys) that the synagogue of the Jewish community of Lida borrowed from the local Deacon.
Another promissory note, from July 7, 1692, in the name of one of the rulers of the city (Choronzshi and Chesnik) in the name of Constantine Kazimir Kontzevitz, in the amount of 4350 gold, was found according to Simlevitz among the funds of the church in Zyrmuny, which is adjacent to Lida.
Simlevitz knows an additional detail that he tells, that in the year 1707, it was not within the power of the Jews of Lida to pay even the interest (6%) for the loan from the Deacon Vidinovski.
From this we learn:
We find an additional document that shows the situation of the Jews of Lida in the publication of The Vilna Commission on the Checking of Ancient Documents. This is a court ruling of the Lithuanian Tribunal from the year 1709, in a trial that was conducted between the 7 heads of the Jewish community in Lida and a Christian by the name of Puma Yuvtzov. This Christian demanded from them a debt of 2100 Polish zlotys, which were owed for many years to his step-father and his mother (both of whom, meanwhile, had died), and which passed to him through inheritance. The Tribunal confirmed in this discussion a previous ruling of the municipal court, and proclaimed the Jews bankrupt (they did not even present themselves in court), sentenced them to a kind of banishment (infamy), imposed a seizure on all their private property in every place (houses, shops, boilers from breweries, places of commerce.), and likewise on the property of the community, the synagogue, which was permitted to the plaintiff to place a seal upon it and handed over the defendants to the hands of the plaintiff, to imprison and do as he pleased with them.
|The Text of the Legal Decision in the Trial of the Seven Heads of the Jewish Community of Lida (Council of Seven Community Leaders) from the Year 1709. From the Publications of the Vilna Council for Checking Ancient Documents.|
[this very old article is in Polish mixed with Latin & was very difficult to translate]
15.05.1709 There has come before us, the main judges of Court of Justice in Great Lithuanian Duchy the matter of Thomas Iowc against the Jews: Izaak Jakubowicz, Icek Jakubowicz [this is probably the same person, as Izaak and Icek are the same name] Mojsze Jakubowicz, Jacob Jonasowicz, Azikier Icek Kuszelewicz, Rubin Iesenowicz, and Chaim Jowzielewicz, to decide. They are officials of the Jewish community , synagogues and Jewish schools. They were summoned to court because they violated municipal decree (judgment of municipal court) of 6.04.1701, which sentenced them onto fine of 2100 Polish zlotys. When Franciszek Mosiewicz, acting as warrant officer and judicial official (Polish: podstarosci) went to offices to seize goods of valued in the sum of 2100 zlotys, these Jews refused to acknowledge the terms of the previous judgment. Therefore they came again into legal problems and were summoned to court as defendants again. No deadline extensions on account of absence were granted. Therefore after a renewed investigation into the matter payment of the previously decreed sum of 2100 zlotys, the sum was judged to be payable by the Jews.
Moreover there is due a fine of about 300 zlotys and an additional 10 zlotys for recording this case in the official record. The sum has to be raised from houses, breweries, trade commodities and funds as well as from the Jewish school in Lida. All of the above been mentioned objects it has been possible to seal have been sealed and the Jews in question caught and arrested. We order the above mentioned judgment to be published everywhere. Thus we recognize these Jews guilty and we uphold the above been mentioned judgments.
Maybe in this document it is also possible to find a hint of the economic crisis that struck the Jews of Lida. Indeed from its contents, it is not possible to know if this was a private debt of the heads of the community, who conducted their business with the guaranty of the property of the community, or the opposite, a debt of the community that the managers guaranteed with their private property. By the way, we find in this document (which, because of the great interest in it, we give its photograph as it was published in the volume of documents mentioned above) a few interesting details. First there became known to us the names of the heads of the community: Eizik, Itzko and Movsha (Moshe) Yaakovovitzim, Yaakov Yonsovitz, Eizik Yitzchak Kushelevitz, Ruven (Reuven) Nisnovitz, Chaim Yovzelevitz. These were, apparently, (and as was customary), some of the wealthy and powerful men of the city (landlords, merchants, owners of shops, breweries and the like, as we mentioned above), and, incidentally, three from one of the powerful families, apparently, Yaakovovitzim.
To our sorrow, it was not possible for us to discover all of the Jewish sources for the history of the Jews in Lida in the period under discussion, except for the name of Reb Dovid Lida mentioned above.
A difficult tribulation visited the city in the summer of 1679, when a conflagration broke out in the hours of the night, and 38 houses, of Jews and Christians, except for buildings that belonged to the local monastery, were consumed by fire within a few hours. To summer heat were added fierce winds. The fire spread very quickly in most of the houses of the city, and many people, Jews and Christians, who did not have time to flee for their lives, were burned alive. Many others were injured with severe burns.
The Partition of Poland and the Annexation of Lida to Russia
Poland experienced a turbulent political period at the beginning of the 18th century The Swedish War. Its events also hurt, without a doubt, the economic position of the Jews of Lida.
In 1702 the Swedish army invaded Lida, destroyed the towers of the fort, burned part of the city, and looted it. The plunderer returned in 1706, and again in 1708, when a large force, with the King of Sweden at its head, the famous Charles the 12th, in person, passed through the streets of Lida, on the King's Road that went up to Iwye.
The results of these frenzied years were felt for a long period of time afterwards. Hunger and plagues again visited the area. The Polish Sejm came again to the aid of the city, to give it the opportunity to recover and in a decision (constitution) from the year 1717, again permitted it the same leniencies that were granted to it after the Russian-Polish war 50 years before.
Political upheavals occurred, in the second half of the 18th century, in the area of the country in which Lida is located. The disintegration of the State of Poland began, pressured by its neighbors to the east and the west, which harassed it. In the year 1776, the Russian army also invaded Lida, under the command of General Graf Tuttleban (temporarily, so to speak, to organize…)
King Stanislaw Augustov, the last of the kings of Poland, made an effort to limit the breaches into his kingdom. One of his aims was to develop the cities. Many cities were granted the right to broad self-rule in their time, (Magdeburg Rights), within a trend to develop labor and commerce in them. Since in many of them it was revealed that their administrations did not show any desire or ability to develop their cities and these remained lagging in their development, these rights were taken away from them. With this opportunity, the city of Lida is mentioned as among the few cities in which the Magdeburg Rights remained.
In the year 1788, the king granted to Lida a plot of land in a part of the municipal market to erect a building for the Municipal Council (Ratush). This was a wooden building decorated with pillars, and next to it was an additional building, in gothic style, that served in the 19th century as a military guardhouse (the Oftevachta).
What the part of the Jews of Lida was in the development of the city is hard to determine, due to the paucity of material in our hands from that period. In any case, it is possible to suppose that they were not an insignificant factor in number and in importance. According to a count that was conducted for the needs of the assessment of the head tax, in 1766 there were found in Lida and her suburbs 1167 Jews that owed the tax, out of 5291 in all of Lida district.
At the end of the century the city was finally conquered by forces of Queen Katerina the 2nd. A brief uprising by the Polish patriots occurred in this area in April 1794, when a general in the Polish army (Polkovnik), the engineer Yashinsky, together with the Count Nisilovsky, drew to their side a part of the army in Vilna, took positions next to Lida, when they had in their possession 18 cannons and threatened the Russian camps in the nearby districts, to the east and to the west. These were the last convulsions of the dying Kingdom of Poland. The rebels were struck down and the city of Lida was conquered by the Russian army.
In this last clash, Gedimin Fort was destroyed, and the municipal archive, which was kept until then in its cellars, was taken out of there and transferred to Smolensk, a place that went up in flames with the invasion of Napoleon's armies. The city of Lida was finally annexed to the Russian kingdom in the year 1795, by virtue of the tripartite agreement between Russia, Prussia, and Austria on the partition of Poland. In the year 1796 Lida was added as a District city to the Slonim region.
The Lives of the Jews After the Russian Conquest
Summer 1812. Lida again serves as a route for the movement of warring armies. The Russian-French war was taking place. In Lida King Alexander was inspecting his army, which was preparing for battle with the French army. Nevertheless the city passed into French hands without a battle, and at the end of that same year the Russians returned and conquered it.
To our regret, there is almost no historical material in our hands on the fate of the Jews of Lida in the turbulence of these shocks of world institutions, for an understood reason: the municipal archive was taken out and burnt entirely. The fires that visited the sanctuaries of Israel in Lida so frequently, destroyed, apparently, all that was likely to be serve as important historical bricks for the history of the Jews of Lida, such as community ledgers, contracts, private notes, and the like. And what may perhaps have remained in the city after all these, and after the great Shoah in our generation, remained outside the reach of our hands.
It may be supposed, that with the annexation of Lida to Russia, there also began a gradual elimination of Jews from adjacent villages and their transfer
to the city, according to the line that was drawn by Queen Catherine: To attempt to transfer them (the Jews A.L.) to the district cities so that these people would not prowl about and will not cause harm to society, but rather, in their engaging in commerce, and many of them in handicrafts, will bring to themselves spaciousness and a benefit to society. This trend also continued in the days of the rulers that came after her, and more so in the days of Nikolai the 1st. And if in the official counting that was conducted in the year 1847 the number of Jewish residents of Lida reached 1980 (compared with 1167 in the year 1776, as mentioned above) perhaps it may be supposed that there is not here the result of natural multiplication alone, but also the result of the mentioned process of transfer from the village to the city.
The economic structure of the Jewish settlement in Lida remained, apparently, mainly as it had been in the previous century. The main support of the settlement continued to increase, as always, in the local market, to which were streaming (since the 17th century), every Monday of the week, masses of farmers from all of the area, and in their wagons were products of their agricultural plots and their handwork. Commerce in agricultural products and the provisioning of the masses of farmers with all their household and farm needs, and the taverns, in which the farmers found food and drink (mainly…), and the lodging houses, for the hosting of the Fritzes that came to the city for their business matters. These were, apparently, the main branches of livelihood for the Jews of Lida, like hundred of other Jewish cities.
Occupations were common among the Jews of Lida, and if one can judge according to the existence of the special synagogues of craftsmen, it is possible to reach the conclusion that the professions were: butchering, tailoring, shoemaking and carpentry were the oldest and most common.
From the stories of elders, the type of the wandering Jewish tailor is known to us, who goes around to the villages and the estates of the Fritzes in the area. At the beginning of the week he would go out on his way (riding, or on foot), with his work implements in his rucksack, together with his tallit and tefillin, (not too heavy a load all together, in the period before there were sewing machines), and at the end of the week he would return to his house with his meagre revenue in hand, to spend his Shabbat in the bosom of his family.
We mentioned the best-known occupations; yet there is no doubt that there were among the Jews of Lida, also other branches of other occupations, such as builders in wood (especially roof makers cheslers), coppersmiths, oven builders, wood choppers, and the like. A special craft (which was related to carving) was known in Lida, pipework, from wood or from horn (pipe maker). The pipes produced in Lida were sold not only in Lida itself but also in the fairs of other towns. And if these professionals were unable to build their own synagogues, it seems that this was because their numbers were not so great.
A Military Base
With the basing of the Russian government in this region of the country, Lida became an important military point, because of her central geographic position at an important crossroads from north to south and from west to east. A Russian military garrison of 400 men is known to us, which went out of its encampment in 1831 to block the road before the Polish General Kalpovski, who marched from Mosty in the direction of Vilna at the head of an army of Polish rebels. The Russian army was struck by the Poles with its weapons discharging upon them. (A military episode that nevertheless did not have an effect on the fate of this tragic uprising.)
Despite the memory of this event, and despite the light of general strategic calculations, the Russian authorities did not stop expanding the military base in Lida from then and until close to the First World War.
The geographic position of the city, as was said, the existence of a significant army garrison (which required, of course, both the paving of convenient roads and regular supply), the many forests in the area of the city, and nearby rivers convenient for the cutting of trees (the Dzitva and the Neman), all of these also had an impact on the economic life in the city. Commerce expanded, the first factories popped up, and Jews from the outside who had economic initiative, who heard that there were food rations in Lida, came to settle in the city.
In this way there appeared in Lida an extension of the Vilna Soltz family: Monia Soltz, who acquired the post business on a lease from the government. (Elders tell that his father served as a coachman to Nikolai the 1st, at the time of his travels in this area, and from him he heard details of the Jews of the place.) The broad yard is still remembered by all of us (Soltz's Yard), in which there were stables for the many horses, which served for the transport of mail deliveries (and, apparently, also for the transport of travelers, before there was a railroad), apartment houses, and also, a synagogue that Soltz erected at his own expense, in the way of a Jewish gentleman in those days (even though he himself was not distinguished by an excess of fear of heaven.).
Among those who came from outside was also Yaakov Papirmeister, who came from Latvia, who established the first brewery in Lida at the beginning of the 70's.
Adjacent to this arose the brewery of Natan-Shimon Pupko, a simple man of the people, but full of vitality and vigor. The two of them began on a small scale and at the end expanded their factories, which were eventually known throughout Russia and served as a source of livelihood for many Jewish and Christian families.
We will further mention the tobacco factory of Zelig Vilentzik, the sawmill of the brothers Poltzek, which was established at the beginning of the 80's. Indeed, there are not known to us any extremely wealthy people in Jewish Lida from the period that we are dealing with, but it can be supposed that already in the first half of the 19th century there were a significant number of well-established landlords, affluent, among the innkeepers and the merchants. The wagons, which travelled on the King's Road from Vilna to Lida, brought with them not only merchandise, but frequently also Torah, in the image of a learned bridegroom or an educated bride. This stream of new settlers from Vilna can be recognized by family names, which testify to their Vilna origins, such as: Epstein, Kenigsberg, Soltz, Lando, Klitzko, and the like.
The Torah influence from Vilna continued to penetrate; the Vilna of the Gaon Reb Eliyahu, which manifested itself in Torah study as a fundamental institution in the education of the generation, and with this, the lack of a handshake with outside wisdoms (which, according to the opinion of the Gaon, as is known, is not only because they don't have in them anything to harm Torah study but rather, on the contrary, they deepen and glorify knowledge of it.)
with its Christian surroundings, with the commanders of the army that was encamped within and in the vicinity of the city, and that served as an additional source of income, with the estate owners in the area for the purpose of the lumber trade, leasing estates, mills, and the like, and as a result of that contact with the authorities and the courts. All of this required knowledge of the language of the state, and the ways of the world.
The two influences mentioned above as one prepared the Jews of Lida for receiving the enlightenment (and Haskalah, without quotation marks) without all of the suffering that was in the revolution, which was the lot of the young Maskilim in other places.
Indeed, we don't find amongst the Jews of Lida in those years greats of science or well-known writers. However, in our browsing through issues of the Hebrew periodicals from the years of the sixties and seventies of the previous centuries, HaLevanon, HaCarmel, HaMelitz, we find articles in clear Hebrew by enlightened youth from Lida who were drawn to the staff of the writer. In one of the issues of HaCarmel (of Sh. Y. Fin of Vilna) from the year 5622 , we encounter a list of solvers of an algebraic-geometric mathematical problem, (according to a mathematical theorem found in one of the commentaries of the Vilna Gaon), and among them was also a Jew from Lida. A small thing, apparently, but nevertheless 5622 (1861), in the remote regional town of Lida!
From within one of the articles we learn that Rabbi Reb Elimelech's son, who served for many years in the Lida rabbinate (in the 40s, apparently), was expert in the Russian language and filled the role of the Crown Rabbi in his service as the intermediary between the rabbi and the institutions of the community, and the government authorities. During a certain period, when he was invited to Peterberg the capital, he filled the place of the Crown Rabbi there over the course of the time of his absence from the place.
Already in the year 1864, apparently, there was a state school in Lida for Jewish children. We learn this from a report of the Ministry for the Education of the People on Income and Expenses for Acts of Education for the Children of Israel in the land of Russia for 22 schools in the first system (razriad) in the Vilna learning district, which was published in the issue of HaCarmel of Sh. Y. Fin of Vilna of Sivan 5624. Among the 22 schools, we also find the school in Lida.
The Integration of Torah and Enlightenment
Together with this, Lida remained a city of Torah learners, and the Rabbi Reb Eliyahu Schik (Reb Elinkah), the Rabbi of Lida in the first half of the century, writes about her, (in his introduction to his book Ein Eliyahu), a city of sages and writers.
From all that is said it is possible to reach the conclusion that there was in the atmosphere of the city of Lida already in the years of the fifties and maybe even in the years of the forties of the 19th century a kind of integration of Torah and tradition on the one hand, and the spirit of enlightenment on the other.
Within this atmosphere sprouted the writer the poet, the teacher and the interpreter of the Tanakh Sh. L. Gordon, the exacting teacher Sh.D. Kantorovitz, the Yiddish writer Yitzchak Goide (B. Garin).
It is no wonder, therefore, that after the death of Rabbi Reb Mordechai Meltzer in the year 1884, the Rabbi the Gaon Reb Yitzchak Yaakov Reines, Av Beit Din of the Holy Community of Svencionys, was invited to sit on the seat of the Rabbinate in Lida. He had indeed still not reached the place in the Jewish world that he achieved after some time, at the beginning of the 20th century, but even then had acquired for himself a name not only as one of the greats of the Torah but also as an enlightened and innovative rabbi, who had a special way of his own in Torah and in life.
The Spread of Chasidism
Within this atmosphere of scholarliness and opposition in the style of the Vilna Gaon, on the one hand, and the rationalistic enlightenment from the years of the sixties on the other hand, is it a wonder how Chassidism also penetrated and acquired a home in Lida? And, not necessarily the Chassidut of Chabad, which is the scholarly Lithuanian Chassidism, but the Chassidism of Koidanov? In any case, it is a fact that still in the years of the fifties there were in Lida a not insignificant number of chassidim, and there are those who say that because of them Rabbi Reb Elinka Schik, who was a pronounced Mitnaged, left the rabbinic seat at that time. And in the days of the rabbinate of Reb Mordechai Meltzer, in about the year 5638 (1878), a young descendant of the Koidanov dynasty settled in Lida, Reb Shlomkeh, who gathered the chassidim of the city around him and became their rabbi.
Apparently, the chassidim themselves felt that they were significant enough in the city, to the degree that after the death of Reb Mordechai Meltzer, they saw themselves as entitled to demand the appointment of their rabbi, Reb Shlomkeh, as the local chief rabbi. Nevertheless, it was not in their power to decide the struggle with the Mitnagdim, who chose Rabbi Reines, as we have mentioned. But the matters did not go by without sharp conflict, and according to how a native of our city, Reb Micha'el Ivanski, may his memory be for a blessing, tells it, even throwing stones into the houses of the adversaries (the chassidim) was not missing.
Glimmers of Zionism and Aliyah to the Land of Israel
The longing for Zion was not a new thing in Lida, and arose from within the roots of tradition. In the year 5635 (1874) there was founded in Lida a society by the name of Pilgrims which presented to her the purpose of creating a fund, out of donations of members, in order to send one member, chosen by lot, to Jerusalem every year, who would come and tell and transmit a report to the members. When the necessary amount was collected, the emissary was about to go out, but it was withheld by heaven. Due to the conditions of the way, his journey was postponed, and if it would take place in the coming year is not known to us.
Already in the years of the eighties was the beginning of aliyah. In about the year 5642 (1882) an eccentric young man, 17 years old, went up, and his name was Shimon Kaminetzki, and he was son to a father who was prominent in the Torah, and he himself filled his belly with Gemara, interpreters, and tanakh in the Lida Yeshiva, and afterwards in the Beit Midrash of Ramailes in Vilna. But his soul longed to bring redemption to the People of Israel in his own way, by way of the study of the kabbalah. He joined thought to deed and went up to the Land, and later became famous there as one of the kabbalists of Jerusalem, who founded a yeshiva for the study of kabbalah - Shaar HaShamayim.
An oleh of a different sort arrived in Israel from Lida in the year 1885, and he was Reb Gershon Horovitz, son-in-law of Reb Aharon Papirmeister, who also went up to the land about 7 years later. Gershon Horovitz was chosen by the Council of Chovevei Tzion in Odessa, together with another 5 Jewish youths
from various corners of Russia, to acquire training in agriculture in the land, in order to serve as counselors for the members of the moshavot.
Two olim, two different worlds, but the two of them were imbued with one aspiration, that which over many years instigated a mass aliyah movement to Israel, also from Lida.
Indeed, in the meantime, aliyah to the land of Israel remained a matter of individuals only. Lida youths for whom the place became limited mostly began to direct their steps toward places where a living could be found: to the United States, and also Europe. In an appeal for help, which Rabbi Reines published in newspapers after the great fire in Lida (1891), we find a petition to brothers of the children of Israel who were born in the city of Lida, in all of the places of sojourning where they are found, like Berlin, Paris, London, Leeds, Manchester, New York, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Pittsburg and the like. Apparently there already were there at that time settlements of people from Lida and all of those cities that are enumerated in the appeal.
Public Institutions and Communal Life
Many are the needs of your people, and Jewish communities in Lithuania struggled mightily to provide for communal needs.
We already mentioned above the loans that apparently the Lida community had to seek in the 17th century to cover its expenses. These expenses included not only religious needs, such as maintaining rabbis, cantors, shochatim (in initials RCHSH), judges, prayer-houses and study-houses, but also institutions of a cultural and social nature: a Talmud Torah (which was principally intended for the children of the poor), a hospital, a public bathhouse and a mikveh, a home for elders, a guest house (for poor passersby), and one of the most important communal services a cemetery etc. The Jewish public never reconciled itself to the abandonment of children of Israel to the street, the abandonment of the impoverished sick, or the elder left to his fate, and the like. All this required great means, which exceeded the possibilities of a small community.
This gap between the acquisition and the needs, and the means, did not diminish, apparently, in the 19th century either. And if in the previous centuries the Jewish community was autonomous and permitted to impose direct taxes on its members, with the nullification of this autonomy of the Jewish community at the end of the 18th century, these sources were taken away from it, the scope of its functions also contracted to the realm of the religious needs alone: kashrut, prayer-houses, the rabbinical institution, and the like. Comparable to this was the legal invalidation of the bet din. But the Jewish public was not reconciled to these limitations, and saw in the philanthropic public institutions an essential need, as before. Jewish merchants continued to be in need of the bet din. (Even though we don't have in our hands exact facts about how long the judges who were appointed continued to receive their wages from communal funds, in any case, the names of a few of them from the end of the previous century and the beginning of the present century are known to us). In place of direct taxes, there now came indirect taxes, such as the meat tax, which was collected by the communal authority, income of the Chevra Kadisha from burial fees, and finally, individual tzedakah.
The meat tax was mostly not directly collected by officials of the community, but was transmitted by public tender to a lessee, who increased the price and he was authorized, in exchange for an annual amount that he paid to the community fund, to collect a certain payment from the butchers, set in advance, for every slaughtered animal. The lessee was, of course, one of the wealthy Jews, who had it in his power to invest all at once a large amount for the leasing of the tax.
From an article in HaMelitz from the year 1885, it is known to us that in the year 1884, the lessee paid 4000 silver rubles to the community of Lida. The business of the lessee, as people have told, was among the profitable ventures.
Indeed, this tax is about consumption. Many have always warned about it as an unjust tax, and rightly so, which places its burden equally on those lacking means and those with means, and impedes for the poor the possibility to eat their fill. This was a result of the un-normal situation in which the Jewish communities of Lithuania were placed, when the essential needs of the community demanded fulfillment, and the path to the imposition of direct taxes on the members of the community was blocked for them.
Indeed, one more tax was available to the community, a direct tax, and to a certain extent a progressive one, which was charged in accordance with the economic condition of the family, that is, burial fees. The income of the Chevra Kadisha (or, Chevrat Mit'askim) constituted a significant portion of the income of the community. This income served to maintain a Talmud Torah, a hospital, a home for elders, and the like. And if there were wealthy misers who in their lives did not open their hands to others, the hand of the Chevra (as they called Chevrat Mit'askim for short) finally reached them, for here there was a place to collect the community debt. More than once bitter disputes were conducted with the mourning families about the amount that was imposed on them, until the family gave in to the demand. (And what could they do; leave Father without burial, move his bones to another community, a place where none knew them, in order to bring him to a cheaper burial? Certainly a disgrace. Indeed, there were such occurrences, which are known to us from stories of the elders, and even from our own memories of recent times.) Mostly, they reached an agreement. The funeral was conducted with the proper respect, and afterwards the matter of the family's final tzedakah was published in the newspaper…
Thanks to events like this, of collection after death, in the year 1883 a new house was acquired for the Jewish hospital, which until then had been located in an old and rickety house, without light or air. This cost the sum of 3000 silver rubles, which the Chevra collected from the heirs of the wealthy who loaned with interest. Part of the amount was also used for flooring for the city markets (so it was written in an article in HaMelitz from that same year.)
The Great Fire
Sukkot 5692 (October 1891). The Time of Our Joy for the Jews of Lida was turned into a day of weeping and wailing. The thing began at the end of the first day of the festival: fire came out of one of the houses and very quickly overcame the adjacent houses. A wind picked up in the evening and helped the fire to spread quickly. Not a few hours went by and the flames encircled the city from end to end. Fear of God! Wooden houses densely packed all around, all of them gripped by flames; the water was poured with buckets from the few wells, dwindling, and the equipment for fighting fires was meagre and primitive. Within one night the Jewish settlement and in it close to 5,000 souls, were turned into a mass of people who lacked both roofs over their heads, and everything else.
That same night 1026 Jewish buildings and 17 Christian buildings went up in flames, among them 400 dwellings. Everything was burned, from furniture and movable property to businesses in shops and warehouses, and in many cases, also cash money that was kept at home (the practice of entrusting money to the bank
was not yet common.) All of the prayer houses* also went up in flames, and among them the ancient synagogue, whose renovation had only been completed a few years before (in 1887), a financial effort which cost the business people of the city a great amount. The damage that was caused to the Jewish population was assessed at 2.5 million rubles. Property insurance was still not customary in the Lida of those days.
A mixed Jewish-Christian committee immediately prepared, with the approval of the District Minister (Gubernator) in Vilna, to extend aid to the burned, and on it were the religious heads, the government heads, and of course, the notables of the Jewish community, with the local rabbi at their head, none other than the Rabbi the Gaon Reb Yitzchak Yaakov Reines, and the Rabbi by order of the King. Indeed, the help was almost completely designated for the Jewish residents, since among the Christians only 17 were hurt, as was said, most of them wealthy people who did not need help. A petition, with the signature of Rabbi Reines, was rushed to Jewish institutions and personages in the land and outside of the land, and was published in the Hebrew press and in all the Jewish newspapers in the Russian language. For the sake of the truth, it can be emphasized that the hope of Rabbi Reines, who had many contacts, for plentiful help, from the generous of the people was not matched, except for a few small donations to a levy for Alms for the Burned from Moscow and Frankfort, and the like. Compared to this, more effective help was provided by residents of the adjacent towns: Shtutzin, Novogrudok, Zittel, Ostrin, Vasilishok, Devenishki, Dvoretz, and from the big cities: Vilna, Baronovitz, Kovno, with money, clothing, and foodstuffs. And not only Jews; in a list of the donors (which was published weekly in HaMelitz,) we find the Archbishop of Lithuania with a donation of 100 rubles, heads of the local Christian religions, Pravoslavic and Catholic, and also government officials, army officers from the battalions that were encamped in the city, estate holders from the area, who sent not only money but foodstuffs flour, wheat and potatoes. And among the donors we find even the Turkish bakery in Vilna, which rushed a delivery of bread to those in need. A sum of 3000 rubles arrived from the royal court (The Merciful Exalted King) at the suggestion of the Minister of the Interior!
And after the completion of everything an amount of a few tens of thousands of rubles was collected a handful that does not satiate the lion. The residents of Lida walked around gloomy and shocked by the cataclysm the likes of which they had never known. Not for nothing did that event remain engraved in their memory for many years, to the point where it served as a sign for counting the years, to say: Such and such many years before or after the burning.
A New City
As is the way of every big shock, at the end of the matter the burning aroused a stream of energy and dormant forces. The Jews of Lida began to awaken. A building movement began with great momentum, with the help of the Russian banks, who found in Lida a large field of operation for their activities, with the help of the wealthy of the city who suffered no damage and especially, a surplus of self-employment and Jewish confidence.
Within a few years, a new city arose, more spacious and orderly, whose center, this time, was built almost entirely of brick buildings in place of the previous wooden ones. So, for example, Sudova Street, in a place which previously there was a large park of fruit trees, and within it, the only pharmacy in the city, of the Christian pharmacist Stavinski. After the parceling of the park and the development of the new street in place of it, Stavinski moved the pharmacy to Vilneska Street (in the days of the Polish government Sovalska), this is the Stara Optika, which was transferred afterwards to the possession of the Polish pharmacist Bergman.
The building movement brought masses of farmers to the city, who brought building materials or found work here in construction, and, of course, left a big part of their proceeds, or the wages for their work, in the city's shops. The construction also drew to the city many Jewish tradesmen from the surrounding and farther area, expert builders (among those we remember: Muller, Bodin), carpenters (Levin his name attests to his origin: der varey naver staler), and more and more.
Little by little buildings were erected, both the public buildings, but, first of all, the prayer houses. First of all of them the synagogue of the sheep and goat slaughterers, which was erected without any outside help, but only by the donations of the members themselves, 300-400 rubles each! In the summer of 1895 its building was completed and its dedication was celebrated.
More difficult was the matter of the building of the Great Synagogue, which required large sums. After the beginning, which happened in 1893, a few more years went by before the movers and shakers of the city could bless its completion. It began with one mitzvah from a generous Vilna-ite, Reb Meir Rubin, with a donation of building materials. A wealthy egg seller helped with the completion of the building. He too was a Vilna man, who had commercial relationships with the Lida merchants, and he donated a few thousand rubles. His name and his wife's name were immortalized in marble tablets that were affixed above the entrance. (To our sorrow the names of this couple, who these lines were designed to commemorate, have disappeared from us, since the marble tablets, alas, were displaced and disappeared, together with the stones of the entire building, in the days of the defiled government of the Nazis troopers.)
Things did not pass without a dispute regarding the building plan. Leizer Pupko, one of the important functionaries and the gabbai of the synagogue, who was the living spirit of this event, sought to build the Torah-reading bima adjacent to the Aron Hakodesh, in the style of modern synagogues, while Rabbi Reines in no way agreed to this style of building, the style of the Reformers. He even threatened that if this plan was accepted, he would not step foot in the holy sanctuary, and the Rabbi of the place had the upper hand.
Finally, the new synagogue stood, completed in its splendor inside and out, with its huge green dome with golden marble, which dominated the area, with its broad interior, and especially the elegant Aron Hakodesh, which was located under an alabaster dome, in illuminated style, richly ornamented, resting upon four groups of slim pillars made of green marble with white capitals at the top, interconnected with delicate bows.
The shock of the fire stimulated demographic processes, whose beginnings were found in the previous period. We already mentioned above the settlement of Jewish craftsmen in the city with the increase of building work after the fire. We will now mention the opposite movement, the exodus from Lida, and first of all, the migration to the United States, which began already some years before the fire. In the edition of HaMelitz
from September 1891 (before the fire), a correspondent from Lida relates that many, many, families left the city and went to live wherever they could find all across the country of America. Indeed, there were those who returned from there and the slander of the land was bad in their mouths, about the hard work in the shop etc. Nevertheless, many were drawn to the land of great opportunities, and in the years of the nineties there already lived many Lida Jews in the cities of the United States. This movement increased after the fire, as might be expected.
On the other hand, many villagers joined the Jewish settlement in Lida (yishuvnikim) who for various reasons saw themselves as forced to leave the villages where they lived and move to the city, whether of their own accord, in order to educate their children among Jews, or by compulsion, because of the decrees of the oppressive Minister Ignatiev (from the years 1881-1882 and on were not nullified and remained in force). These yishuvnikim, mostly healthy types in body and character, and mostly people of means, constituted a positive addition of capital and vigor to the Lida community. These were mostly known by the addition of the names of the villages or estates in which they dwelt. We will mention a few of them for example: Nachman the Leipnitzer, Yisrael the Kasoyshtshiner, and more. A few of these simple and honest Jews donated generously to the needs of the public. In the synagogue of the Mit'askim, a copper tablet was affixed to the bima, on which was mentioned the donation of Yisrael Zaltzman; he is Yisrael the Kasoyshtshiner,
We, the signatories below, chosen from the officers of the congregation, and the Seven Good Ones of the City of here, Lida, and were chosen to oversee the building of the new synagogue, which is being built at this time in the city of Lida, and also permission was given to us to sell all of the places in the new synagogue mentioned above, both the men's section and the women's section, joined by the Rabbi the Gaon and the Beit Din Tzedek of this place, we inform with this bill of sale which is given from now to Reb Pinchas son of Reb Yehoshua Lidski to be in his hand and in the hands of his representatives and his heirs after him for testimony and for merit and for evidence how we, the undersigned, sell to Reb Pinchas son of Reb Yehoshua Lidski, mentioned above, in complete sale, fit and established, one place in the men's section in the new synagogue mentioned above, which is marked with number 160, this place we sold to Reb Pinchas Lidski, mentioned above, and to his representatives and his heirs absolutely and in perpetuity and the permission is in the hands of Reb Pinchas Lidski, mentioned above, and to his representatives and his heirs to do with this place as a man in his own right to sell, to give as a gift, to bequeath, to rent and to lease without any objection or hindrance from us the undersigned to Reb Pinchas son of Reb Yehoshua Lidski in complete ownership by means of a symbolic act of acquisition in the most beneficial way according to the law of our Sages, may their memories be for a blessing, regarding a matter in which there is no fit written proof of the purchase that he acquired, to confirm and establish all that which is mentioned above, we have signed with our handwritten signatures on Thursday, the 11th day of the month of Elul, 5656 since the creation of the world , here in the city of Lida.
Signed by Yitzchak Yaakov Reines, Av Beit Din
the first 300 rubles for the erection of the synagogue after the fire. He also donated the first 1000 rubles for the establishment of the new home for elders.
Stimulus for additional development was given to Lida with the building of the Seidlitz-Bologvia railroad (in the year 1903-1904), which passed though Lida, in addition to the Vilna-Baronovitz line, which also passed through here. Because of this Lida became a central station and an important strategic point. Incidentally, among the overseers of the work on the Lida- Molod'chena section, by order of the Fried contractors, was a young Jewish road engineer whose name was Kerner, who, while he was in the city for the purpose of his work, was among the guests of Rabbi Reines, may his memory be for a blessing, and already then, apparently, begun to come close to Zionism. Later, in the new State of Poland, he became well-known as one of the leaders of the Zionist movement, and was elected to the Polish Senate.
In the year 1903, Lida (actually the railroad station in Lida) was privileged to receive a visit by King Nikolai II, and among those who welcomed him were also representatives of the Jewish community, the Rabbi by Appointment of the King, Kramnik, and the Cantor Ofendik. Serious security measures, even exaggerated to the point of ridicule, were taken in the railway station and the surrounding area on the occasion of this honored visit. So, for example, there was erected on the platform a special large barrel, for the filling of the locomotive of the King's train with water, so that it would not need the regular water pipe.
Industry began to develop in Lida, on the handicraft side: a few large factories, whose beginning we have already mentioned, such as two
(Picture, stylized, by a soldier artist from the period of the First World War)
beer factories, of Pfeffermeister and of Pupko, Vilentchik's tobacco factory, Poltchek brothers' sawmill, and now there were added a few smaller factories: Melnik's sawmill, and next to it a flour mill, two additional tobacco factories, belonging to Nachman Spielkovski (The Leipnitzer) and Rabinovitz, a soap factory, a beverage factory, the first printing house (Zeldovitz), and more and more. At a later time, a yeast factory was established by the Strogetz brothers from Oshmany.
In the year 1894, there were in Lida, according to an official census, 5295 Jewish residents out of a total general population of 9323 souls. However, the limiting factor for this community, which was increasing in size, were the temporary regulations (vermania provila), or, according to the more common name among the Jews, the Ignatiev decrees, from the year 1882 until Zaratza and no further. Zaratza and Vismonti were defined as suburbs, in which Jewish settlement was forbidden. However, under pressure from the developing city and its increasing population, these suburbs were opened to the Jews at the end of the century. A gesture of kindness from the Russian government!
The great military center that was in the suburbs of the city of Lida was very much in need of the professional services of the Jews of the city. In an article from the year 1895, we read about 110 Jewish contractors and workers who were found in barracks, and when in that year they celebrated A Wedding Souvenir of the Glory of the Monarchy of their majesties, the Kaiser and the Empress, the community of these Jewish workers held a celebration of its own, in their own way: they arranged a pleasure party in the prayer house (it was not indicated which one) with the participation of a military orchestra conducted by the military kapellmeister Shepselevitz (a Jew) and with the participation of military officers and representatives of the civilian government, and they dedicated the income to the writing of a Torah scroll! (Of course, in memory of their majesties the Kaiser and the Empress). Thanks to a Russian army man (Vainsky Netchelnik, an army supervisor) who was enlightened, a man of taste, Lida was granted a public garden (Petrovski Park, on Kamionka Street). To do this, Leibush thought of part of a swamp that was in a grove of trees, the Olcha, (Olesnik), which occupied a significant part of the city. For this purpose he used army horses and wagons that were available to him, and poured thousands of tons of coarse sand (gravel) into the boggy swamp, dug a lake for drainage into the area, which served at the end for pleasure boating, erected a wooden building for performances (summer theater), and then you have a public park for everything. And on yomei defegra, a military band would be brought to hold concerts under the dome of the sky.
The 10-15 years that preceded the First World War were marked by slow but continuous development in Lida, and her Jewish residents displayed a great measure of dynamism and initiative. Jewish contractors built the new set of barracks, the large garage (Elling) for the dirigible (a kind of zeppelin, in an early version, still less elaborate). Two factories for simple agricultural machinery went up (cutters, components for water pumps, and the like), each one of which employed some tens of workers. A large yeast factory was run by Jews from Oshmany (the Strogetz brothers). The forest trade exploded in the area, and the Jews in Lida had a big part in it. Lida was turned into a center of wholesale supply for the merchants of all the forests in the area, and its output was vast, including: beer, yeast, agricultural machinery and the like. It found for itself much larger markets, even partly throughout Russia. With the help of the Jewish Colonization Association, the Jewish cooperative bank was founded in Lida (Cooperative Credit), whose Director was Mr. Zelig Pupko, a veteran and devoted businessman (the son of Mr. Yitzchak Pupko, who was known, from the time of his acting as a Jewish representative in the local Duma, by the name Itche the Tshlen).
In short, the Lida landscape was changed. The spiritual and communal landscapes in Jewish Lida were also changed, which added to the weaving of the traditional and Jewish threads of life out of new winds of change, and which were already heralding the coming of a new period, and new ways of life.
Enlightenment, Culture and Education
Lida was a city of Torah and Hebrew education bound together. However, a new intelligentsia had already begun to grow, which adopted the Russian language for itself as a second language, or even a first: a Jewish doctor, a private lawyer (tchestnie pobieranie, that is, not a university graduate), a visiting Jewish engineer, contractors who were found with the army or the civil government, and the like. The Russian daily newspaper began to take the place of the Hebrew periodicals (which, incidentally, did not supply much information about events in a timely way.) Already in 1891, the Lida reporter already complains in HaMelitz about the neglect of the language of Ever and Hebrew education in general, and distress over the death of the gifted young writer Moshe Reines, the son of Rabbi Reines, who was influential over the young people of Israel in the city, and with his departure, the fount of Hebrew culture had declined, in his words, amongst the educated younger generation in Lida.
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