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{Page 436}

Hresk

(Gresk, Belarus)

5310' 2729'

by M. L. G.

Translated from the Yiddish by Pamela Russ

Hresk was around 20 viorst from Slutsk. The Jewish population comprised sixty families among a larger number of Christians. Around the town were Jewish settlements who leased dairy farms and estates from the landowners. For example, in the village of Holcyc the well-known enlightened person and great scholar Reb Elezer Zeldowycz leased the estate and the brewery. The dairy farm was leased by Borukh and his children. The tavern and the inn were also in Jewish hands. In Holcyc there was a large Jewish population with their own minyan [set quorum for prayers] every Shabbath and on all Jewish holidays.

Along with the surrounding Jewish settlements, Hrest totalled 120 Jewish families. The “leasing” in Hresk itself was kept for the Radziwills [Crown of Kingdom, Poland family] by the well-known family Fulman, that was in ruins.

It is also worth mentioning that the daughter of the Slutsker Rav, Reb Meyerke Fajmer, ran away from home and married one of the Fulmans, against the wishes of her father.

There was a Beis Medrash in town, two shokhtim [ritual slaughterers], and rabbis often changed there. Once, even the rabbinic seat in Hresk was held by Reb Mordekhai Meyer Zilberman. He wasn't always in town, but more often he went to deliver sermons in near and far places. Following him were the rabbis Reb Yoshiye and Reb Khaim. In the later years 5670-5673 (1910-1913), through the Wolozhyner Rosh Yeshiva [head of the yeshiva] Reb Refoel Shapiro, a young Torah scholar was sent over, Reb Ben-Tzion Cwik. He became beloved by the Hresker Jewish population and took great interest in the difficult economic situation in town. Primarily, the Jews were artisans, small merchants, who would go to the surrounding villages and landowners' courts. A few were storeowners, such as Mikhel the yellow, and Mikhel the black.

Yitzkhok Berkowycz first was a teacher in Fulman's court, but when the Fulmans became impoverished, Yitzkhok Berkowycz became a butcher in town.

Income for the rabbis was according to the folk-humor of “GeZeiLoH” [robbery] – Gaza [gas], Zalts [salt], Likht [light], Haiven [yeast]. Reb Yosef Shulman, one of the merchants in Hresk, had the rights to sell yeast and give a certain percent of his earnings to the Rav. When they came to pick up the Rav's money, he used to put his right hand into the money box, take a handful of silver coins, not count, and give it over in good humor. The reason for the poverty in Hresk was that there were no fairs in town and no markets. The peasants in Hresk and in the surrounding villages would bypass Hresk and go to Hrozowa and Kopulye on the market days and did not stop [in Hresk], so the Rav, Reb Ben Tzion Cwik, decided to go to Minsk to the governor Girs and requested that there should be markets and fairs in town near the church on the Christian holidays. Since he was able to speak Russian well, he was successful with the governor who promised to fulfil his request, and that's exactly how it was. After that, the economic situation did improve.

About eight viorst from Hresk, in the dense forests, there was a large village called Werebiowa, far from a main road and a train station, in which there lived a pitch burner, the well-known Hirshel Werebiower (Tzvi Wiener), a mohel [one who performs circumcisions] purely for the mitvzah, who was prepared to come for no fee [and perform the circumcision] at every invitation in the entire area.

He was not a chassidic Rebbe with shamashim [sextons] and gabaim [beadles]. In his simplicity, wisdom, and his religious behavior, he made a strong impression on everyone.

Sick and broken people, bodily and spiritually, women agunos [title for women whose husbands' whereabouts are unknown, or whose husbands refuse to grant a divorce, thus creating a problematic status of “agunah” for the woman] would come to him pleading for advice and a solution to their problems. He would listen to everyone compassionately. Many asserted that they were helped and saved by him. The people's belief in him was so great that even peasants from distant villages would come to see him in Werebiowa.

This is how Hirshel Werebiower, the honest village Jew, the sorcerer, the healer of people in pain, became a legendary person. His large size, his strong figure, his beautiful face and snow-white beard, had a hypnotic effect on all those who came to him. His compassion touched everyone who came to see him. To those who needed, he would give cures, all kinds of herbs, and sometimes use words or amulets.

His name was known far and wide. He lived a long life, over one hundred years. In the era of the Soviet government, when Werebiowo was already connected to a train line, someone informed on him that he conducts himself like a doctor, but still they would come secretly for a cure, and even government personnel would come.

 

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