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[Pages 211-213]

Charles Saltz (Khone Zaltz)

by Shlomo Skulsky in honor of Charles' 75th birthday

Translated by Elli Epstein

During the First World War, my parents and I, like all Pitchayever, were evacuated in Central-Russia. As soon as the war was over, we came back home. I was only a child, just starting to go to cheder. When the adults would have conversations among themselves, we as children would often hear the name Khone Zaltz, a name that seemed to us children almost wrapped in a veil—an oft repeated name.

“There is a letter here from Khone Zaltz.” We heard the committeemen speaking among themselves, while we were standing on a long line with milk cans in our hands; “Khone Zaltz writes.” Our rabbi comforted his wife, who was skin and bones, when she asked him for Shabbos needs: “We should write to Khone Zaltz.” Voices were heard from prominent leaders in the community during meetings in the shul, when they couldn't figure out (they were breaking their heads) how to renovate the town baths, and the rabbi was angry because the town exists without a kosher mikve… In our childish minds the secretive name became bound up with stories of Eliyohu Hanovi (Elihu the Prophet) who appears suddenly in Jewish homes to perform miracles. The fact that they called him by his family name and not by any nickname, the way it was a custom in our town, that fact alone gave us the impression that there is something new here, it smacks of the larger world….. As children, we were ashamed to ask, who is this Zaltz, because it is not proper not to know this, which everyone else knows. Therefore, Khone Zaltz came across to us like a good protector, when there was trouble or a need—immediately the adults call him….

Later on when we started to grow up and formed various youth clubs, culture clubs, political organizations, philanthropic institutions—and we became more seriously interested with this person, who sits somewhere in America and influences in many ways, in the matters concerning the shtetel. We were aware of this, not much, but it was enough for the younger generation to feel a connection to the name. Young people were able to relate, that Khone Zaltz a capable child, but was different from his friends during his cheder years; he did not wear side locks, he walked with girls, he kept a comb in his pocket, he read books, that were not dealing with chumish (the five books of the torah)….His mother had problems from the neighbors: “Your Khone is growing to become a heretic”…When he left to go to America, after the passage of several years, it was obvious that Charles Saltz remained devoted to and concerned with Pitchayev…

They started to contact him on various matters. If a hospice (hostel) for the poor is established or a charity fund, immediately Mr. Zaltz from America knew about it. If they want to establish a library, they write to Zaltz in America. The town has a livelihood, they no longer need material support, but cultural, spiritual support—We have one of our own in America, one of us who understands such matters.

One fine day, a rumor was heard in the town: Zaltz decided to publish a book in America about his old home town. He asked for material and the town population rolled up their sleeves: they established a special committee, young people started to gather material, photographs, writing about various characters, describing the life in Pitchayev, delving into historic chronology. Everything was done with love and enthusiasm for the literary project. Everyone wanted to participate. I don't know if the book itself would have had an important cultural value at that time as the cultural atmosphere, which was created in the town around the work involved with the book. That in itself can be considered as an important achievement.

Then World War II started. A few young people managed to escape from occupied Pitchayev, and managed to reach Vilna. They tried to save themselves as individuals. They soon wrote to Khone Zaltz but the blood bath spread quickly and soon reached Lithuania.

After the war, after the vast destruction, when individual, orphaned Pitchayever, dispersed and widely scattered over Europe, looked around, realizing that they are alive and do not know where to go or whom to turn to. They look to contact Khone Zaltz: He looks for them wherever they are to be found, gets in contact with them and connects them with their relatives, wherever they can be found; in that way they are no longer alone and orphaned.

Khone Zaltz feels the pain of the calamity that befell his brothers from the old home. He decides to publish a yizkor book (memorial). His home, which is always open to intellectual and spiritual Jews, is a small center for this holy undertaking. Pitchayev Jews, about 500-600 people, scattered over the world, the core group of those who are in Israel, in North and South America, meet each other through letters from his home. Pitchayev generations, past and present, destroyed and survivors, gather together with him, meet each other. He will immortalize them, create a literary monument. For this goal he puts in his time and effort, with his connections to literary circles. He himself has written a lot. He gathers material, writes his own memories. He lives and breathes with the hope that the book about Pitchayev will represent a historic value for general interests.

It is no wonder that now as Charles Saltz celebrates his 75th birthday, the fractured Pitchayev community is stirred. A warm feeling embraces the heart, a prayerful feeling brings tears to the eyes: Long happy years to you friend Zaltz, concerned patron of our mother- home for us from Pitchayev. The only home from our lost home.

Thanks to the recent translation by volunteer Elli Epstein of the preceding chapter, “Charles Saltz (Khone Zaltz)” I can at last read about my grandfather's colorful uncle. I already knew that he was literally the driving force behind the publication of the book; I heard stories about the man who in the year 1959 at the age of 76, drove his car from Philadelphia to California, collecting funds from fellow Pitchayever across America in order to publish the memorial. In 1960 his dream, a monument to his family, friends and his lost shtetl, came true with the publication of The Pochayev Yizkor Book. The last remaining sibling in a family of seven children, he died less than two years later in April of 1962-- five months before I was born. I now see that there once lived somebody before my time, with the same interest in preserving our family's history; it's as if Khone Zaltz wrote the book just for me.

Lisa Brahin Weinblatt
Project Coordinator, Pochayev Yizkor Book
New Jersey, USA
April 18, 2005

[Pages 241-243]

A Rabbi for Pitchayev
and the “Czar”
[1] on the Attic

by Charles Saltz

Translated by Elli Epstein

I heard an account of an event that happened in Pitchayev in the year 1881. During this time the Jews of Russia suffered from severe decrees and persecutions. The very esteemed rabbi left the town to take a position in a larger city and it was necessary to look for someone to replace him. There were two groups of Chasidim in town. It was necessary in Pitchayev to give the two groups nicknames. The names chosen were “Holi” and “Bosi,” Russian for Naked and Barefoot, to show the ridiculous nature of the quarrels. One was a follower of the Aliker Rabbi; the other group followed the Trisker Rabbi. The same two groups were also a part of the economic activities of the town, bringing in merchandise from Austria. Hersh Zalts in partnership with others and Moshe Nochum Cherniak brought in goods from Galicia with the help of hired smugglers.

Cherniak considered himself to be the prominent rich man in town. He arranged to have Rabbi Sholom Shachna, a torah scholar, to be his son-in-law for his only daughter. He was ordained to serve as rabbi. Later on he published a book about questions and answers. The name of the book was “Guarding Peace.” Moshe Nochum wanted that his son-in-law should fill the rabbinate position. The Aliker Chasidim supported him.

Hersh could not begrudge such honor to Moshe Nochum, so he brought to Pitchayev a rabbi, also a Pitchayever son-in-law, from a prominent family—Rabbi Velvelen. He did not speak Yiddish on Shabbos, only Hebrew, the holy language…His son-in-law Rav Boruch came from Horodok. The other side, the Trisker Chasidim, supported Hersh. The problem was that Pitchayev couldn't even support one rabbi.

Big conflicts blew up and people became bitter enemies against one another. They even came to blows. Moshe Nochum Cherniak, a well-to-do Jew, realized that the position would not provide a good income. Just at this time, it so happened that the town of Berimlia, near Dubne was looking for a rabbi, so he was able to obtain the position for his son-in-law Sholom Shachna. So rabbi Velvel's son-in-law Reb Boruch remained as the only rabbi in Pitchayev. He was from a very good family. He also had a very majestic appearance and he was smart. He remained in the rabbinate position until 1897. Then he returned to his hometown Horodok.

So there was a new search for a rabbi in Pitchayev. This time a new generation became influential. The search for a rabbi was carried on according to Chasidic system, not according to ambitions or bickering about honor. It happened at the time Rabbi Alteruni, the rabbi of Ostre, came to town as part of his annual visit to his followers. He recommended one of them—Reb Chaim Runick from Yarmelinetz for the position. He was older but esteemed in all of Volin. Chaim Cherniak (Moshe Cherniak's son), a fervid Aliker follower, couldn't stand the fact that the “Mindikes”—this is what they called the Saltzes—should carry out their own wishes. So they quickly wanted to grab the position for themselves. At the same time another faction brought over their own rabbi from a neighboring town, Alexinitz. This rabbi turned out to be not a good choice because he did not shy away from the “bitter drop.” They gave him the nickname the “Alexinitzer Shicker” (drinker). This time they gathered signatures from a majority of residents; so the Alexinitzer rabbi remained as rabbi of Pitchayev. The Cherniak-Ostre Chasidim did not give up, and brought over the Yarmelinetzer rabbi, Reb Hyman, who had the blessing of Rabbi Alteruni, the Ostre rabbi. This caused disagreements.

This time the conflicts erupted into bitter and bloody fights in the streets and even in the shul. Erev Shavous in the year 1897 (note: four years after the death of Hersh Zalts), especially on the holiday of receiving the torah, they overlooked the concept of desecrating the holiday. During the prayers there were bloody fights. They broke the furniture, lamps and even tore down the brass chandeliers. Several people came home with bloody heads.

The hatred became even stronger. They didn't hesitate to accuse people to the authorities about illegal goods. Several merchants lost their businesses. They even went as far as making false accusations which caused the accused to be sent to Siberia for hard labor.

In those times, the new revolutionary literature was widespread in cities and towns. So they thought of a way to get rid of Moshe Cherniak once and for all. They allowed themselves to be talked into buying the illegal material “revolution” leaflets in Russian and left it in his house—that is how it was.

Somehow it is said that two innocent young boys found some Russian leaflets in the attic of the shul. They brought the leaflets to a Christian book store in order to sell them. The owner saw what kind of a “find” this was and gave the material to the two Pitchayev policemen. While arresting the two young “revolutionaries,” the policemen understood immediately that the boys were innocent because they didn't understand a word of Russian. But the matter was given over to the capital city Kremenetz. The police chief came down with an inspector. A number of Jews were called into the police station. There was a hearing, where it was shown that not one of these people was able to read Russian and they had no idea what the word revolution meant. The accusation was abolished.

In Pitchayev it was said that the Czar, the oppressor of Jews, Alexander III. was defeated.

Because of the disagreements among the factions surrounding the selection of rabbis, the Yarmelinetzer rabbi left his rabbinate position. His son, Reb Yaakov Yosef, took his place. Since then peace and tranquility was established among the Jews of Pitchayev. They felt fortunate when the very capable Rov Rabbi Eliezer Uritzky came from Petrikov, Grodner County. He remained until the war and was killed, together with his flock.

Translator's footnote

  1. The pun in the title: The “Czar” on the Attic: In Yiddish, “Tzar” with an aelph means Czar—the Russian Tyrant—In Hebrew “Tzer” (pronounced the same) with an ayin means worries, troubles, aches. Return

[Page 244]

Hersh Mindies

by Charles (Khone) Saltz

Translated by Paula Parsky

Hersh Mindies was one of the most important property owners in Pitchayev. As a community activist he devoted himself to the official duties of the shtetl. The important place that he occupied led him to a position of importance with a few followers, when an argument broke out in the shtetl because of a Rabbi who was a ritual slaughterer. His followers, devoted with heart and soul, truly deified him. Again, also in his dedicated manner, he helped everyone in time of need. But not only them; he helped whoever needed anything. If a wagon driver needed to buy a horse, Hersh would sign a note by the moneylender. Just as he would for others who needed a loan. Not only did he make himself liable with his signature on a note, he was no rich man... and he himself needed to go to the moneylender.

His income came from a tavern and from supplying a church with meat. His communal activities as a tax collector, a gabbai in the house of study and in the Chevra Kadisha, always involved in caring for the poor, prevented him from becoming rich...  It's said that he was a tax collector, but when a woman needed to kill and cook a chicken for medicine to make soup for her sick child or husband, Hersh would order it to be killed free of charge. And when someone would come to Hersh for a favor, to ask for a bit of goose fat for Passover, Hersh freed him from having to pay taxes. The book of receipts that he had to bring after paying for the chicken to the ritual slaughterer, and always lay free and open on the table, and when the children saw their father giving out receipts free of payment, they too didn't begrudge him… The rebetsin of the teacher who taught Hersh's children also benefited greatly from his generosity, for from Hersh's child she could get receipts to have her chickens and geese without charge, and she also would ask to have the favor extended to her neighbors, also for several geese... And when a Jew needed to celebrate a wedding and wanted to have meat for a cheap price, he would follow the advice of the butcher and prevail upon Hersh for a receipt to slaughter a cow free of tax. And Hersh would give poor people a note releasing them from having to pay the tax. On Friday nights the butchers used to come to Hersh to calculate and pay the tax. Each butcher already had his arguments prepared to bargain about the price. The butchers already knew that with Hersh you could bargain and the taxes would be lowered, and that Hersh was paid 400 rubles a year from the taxes, such a tax collector was Hersh Mindies.

For an entire week, there were no fairs or market days. So the tavern was more a community meeting-place for the shtetl . The samovar stood on the table the entire day for whoever wanted to talk. And Hersh's relatives and friends would come and drink tea and consider the community matters of the shtetl or they would talk about their own troubles earning a living.

The house was always open to people. When the villagers who came to the shtetl did not return to the village, they would come to Hersh's to drink tea and hear the news of the community's affairs. The table was always set. Thursday was a busy day for Hersh: the Jews needed to have a couple of rubles to make Shabes. And Hersh, while talking with each one of these “heymishe” friends, already knew who didn't have the couple of coins he needed for Shabbes. He would take someone aside in his closet, presumably to confide something in him, and give him the few coins.

From childhood on, one of these days is engraved in my memory. At night, all the Jews had already gone home. Mother too was already asleep in our room, father was alone sitting near the counter, and I was playing with something on the floor near the stuffed couple of sacks of five-pound bags of flour. Suddenly I heard father speaking to himself: “Akh, Great G'd, why have you so badly apportioned the world? I have two sacks of five pounds of flour and so many Jews have no money to buy ten pounds of flour for Shabes. Why not divide things up so that all would have an equal portion, so Jews would at least have enough for Shabbes. And tears ran from his eyes…

As the gabbai of the house of study, money always came from him. He had to be certain that in the winter there would be wood to heat the stove, candles and kerosene for the lamps, and the income never was enough for the expense.

On Simkhes Torah it was customary for him to have a festive meal [seudah] in his home for all the frequenters of the house of study, more than sixty men. Mother would roast geese, bake several ovens full of challah. And the alcohol was mixed with honey for the Simkhes Torah meal. After the meal, people would bring the bridal canopy from the house of study, with a Sefer Torah and Hersh would, together with all the Jews, accompany the Torah with song and dance under the bridal canopy, marching all the way to the house of study. On the way young and old would stand, celebrating their coming with “ hakofes.” People sang and danced and wished each other to live to see another year, and everyone would answer “You as well.” This would go on late into the night.

So it was all the time that Hersh Mindies lived. After his separation from the world at the age of  54, when others took the place of gabbai, everything changed, since no one wanted to cover the expenses, and their wives didn't want to be responsible for these festive meals.

Because Hersh Mindies was a community activist, his wife, Reyze was a “woman of valor.” She took care of everything with the special dishes and holiday meals that they used to celebrate in the house, not only for the frequenters of the house of study where her husband Hersh Mindies was the gabbai, but also for other community groups.

In the shtetl, the Chevra Kadisha [burial society] and the Chevra Nosai ha Mite [society for carrying the corpse] busied themselves with special functions. The first took care of the good condition of the cemetery and the entirety of the surrounding fence. The second would work with the corpse. Both did it for the mitzvah, not to make money. In Pitchayev all the Jews on the eve of Yom Kippur after “ shlogn Kapores ” [the atonement ceremony] would go to the cemetery. The Chevra Kadisha took care of the honey cake and mead, and Jews would wish each other a “good sealing” there. The preparation of the several pails of alcohol and several honey cakes were up to Hersh Mindies wife, Reyze, who would bring everything to the cemetery with a horse-drawn wagon.

Very generously, Reyze, Hersh Mindies wife, would prepare a satisfying meal with roasted meats for several tens of Jews each first day after Passover for the voting. At every meeting of the communal elections, they would choose the gabbai of the Chevra Kadisha . This same meal was eaten in the home of Hersh Mindies. This too was supported from Hersh Mindies' own pocket. The officials' needs were covered by the costs of funerals and from the purchase of gravesites. Hersh would have to negotiate with both Chevres about the price, or would completely free the family of a poor man from having to pay.

Hersh Mindies was not a learned man. In his bookcase were some sets of Pentateuchs, siddurim, makhzorim and the women's Tsene Urene. On the Sabbath after the cholent and the Shabbes nap, he would look at the Khumesh, going through the portion for the week. Nevertheless, because of this he was truly strongly near and helpful to G'd and his Torah, more than the great scholars. One could see this in him when on Simkhes Torah, he would go with the Sefer Torah under the bridal canopy, surrounded by his friends, the Hasidim, and danced and sang with great abandonment.

He was born in 1839 and left the world in 1893, leaving four sons and three daughters.

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