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[Col. 81]

The History of Sventzian

Dedicated to my parents: Shmuel the son of Shimon-Yankev, and Lea Sara daughter
of Yisrael, and my sisters: Yokheved and Slova, of blessed memory


Shimon Bushkanyetz


The Beginning

The time of the Middle Ages and the life in Poland--Lithuanian-Polish union and its influence on the Jewish settlements--Expulsion from Lithuania (1495)--Sventzian and its founders.

Even an old Polish folk legend tells that Abraham Prokhavnik was elected the first king in the land by chance. He relinquished this great honor and gave up the throne to the Pole Piast. This was in the ninth century. For the first four hundred years, the Jews lived in Poland undisturbed and were even accorded special privileges. The renowned King Kasimir the Great, who ruled during the years 1333-1370, gave the Jews free reign in business and trade as well as religious freedom. The legend recounts that he married a Jewess named Esther. After the death of Kasimir the Great, conditions for the Jews clearly worsened. In the year 1386, an alliance was formed of the Polish kingdom and the Lithuanian principality. Because of this alliance, the Lithuanian Prince, Vladivostok Yagela (an erstwhile idol worshiper) converted to Catholicism then married a Polish princess named Yadviga and was crowned King of Poland and Lithuania. Under pressure from the clergy and the spiritual leaders of the church, Vladivostok Yagela did not continue the previous rights of the Jews. The relationship of the Catholic population to the Jews got worse. This found expression in a variety of cruelties done to Jews as well as blood libels.

After the Polish-Lithuania Alliance, a nephew of Vladivostok named Vitold, ruled Lithuania. It was he who had implemented the previous tolerance toward the Jews, which had been started by the Grand Prince of Lithuania, Gedimin, who lived from 1316 to 1341. The Jews in Lithuania lived as they had previously done in Poland. The Grand Prince Vitold converted to Catholicism at that time, but the Lithuanian people remained idol worshippers and continued to venerate and worship their various gods: “Perkunas,” Layimo,” “Geltino,” “Fustayites,” and others.

The mass conversion to Catholicism occurred at the time that his nephew, Vladivostok Yagela, came to Lithuania accompanied by a large contingent of priests. They began to spread Catholicism among the Lithuanian people and were successful after great difficulty.

The Grand Prince Gedimin transferred the capital city from Troki in Lithuania to Vilna. Under his rule, the Jews benefited from a certain amount of political autonomy, as well as free trade and business privileges. His approach continued that of Prince Vitold as opposed to that of Vladivostok Yagela in Poland, on whom the Catholic priests' hatred of Jews had a tremendous influence. Yagela listened to their advice and was not content with the usual limitations of Jewish rights. In addition he instituted Jewish ghettos like those in the fanatical lands of Western Europe at that time.

The kings who ruled in Poland-Lithuania after Vladivostok Yagela were more approachable and treated the Jews more humanely. In their time, Jews from Germany and Austria came to live in Poland, because they were persecuted and tormented in those other lands. In Poland they found a place of refuge. The Jewish refugees quickly conformed to the prevailing conditions, and then a great Jewish settlement was created.

The great influx of Jews from Western Europe also extended to Vilna. Many Jews settled in this beautiful, northern city in the fifteenth century and laid the foundation for a great, new, Jewish center. Several hundred years later, Vilna was renowned for its Jewish religious and cultural institutions. That is why the rest of the world called Vilna the “Jerusalem of Lithuania,” which says a lot.

Vilna was the capital of Lithuania for quite a while. After the union of Poland and Lithuania and especially during the reign of the Polish king, Kasimir IV (1447-1492), Vilna also became a center for Polish culture.

Under pressure from the increasingly powerful church and its priests and with the help of the Polish element, in the year 1495 Lithuania issued a decree that all the Jews must leave Lithuania immediately. This event is called in Jewish history: “The Expulsion from Lithuania” (1495-1503).

Under the conditions which prevailed at that time, the power of the Polish king was slight. He had to take the various princes into account as well as the landowners (lords) and the Polish nobility, who owned the majority of the land. Every lord made his own laws on his own property and estate and also had his own trade. The peasants who worked his land were, in fact, his slaves. They had their own militia, with which the lord would wage war for his own interests as well as those of the state. On his estate, each lord had his own customs, which the king, the central government, didn't have to know about.

This structure and organization took advantage of the Jews of that time, who, because of the expulsion decree, had to leave the cities of Lithuania. They discovered various lords who agreed to permit them to settle on their estates. These lords gave these Jews a kind of asylum and citizenship. For the lord, the Jews served as tenants, innkeepers, guards of water mills and windmills. There were also such Jews as found favor in the eyes of the lords and became their financial advisers. Some even minted coins for [their lord] with Yiddish and Hebrew inscriptions: “ shkolim.”

Some of these coins were found in 1928, when the foundations of the buildings on the Stanislavov Estate were being dug. They were also found in excavations on the Shvinte Estate in the village of Bayari.

According to historical documents, many Jews occupied themselves with the collecting of taxes for their area as well as running their own businesses. This gave them great influence with their lord, which in turn caused the enslaved peasants to envy and hate the Jews. There were also cases in which the lords debased the Jews on their estates and the Jews had no recourse but to endure great suffering.

In 1503, the expulsion order against the Jews was rescinded. It became evident that the Lithuanian principalities had suffered more from the expulsion than the Jews themselves. There was a small Christian population in the Lithuanian cities and towns. They did not participate in any sort of business or trade and did not have the most minimal education or possess the necessary qualifications in any of the necessary fields. Jews were needed in banking and medicine and other economic branches, having brought their knowledge and experience with them from the places where they had previously lived in Western Europe. (They were physicians, finance specialists, merchants, craftsmen, etc.)

The annulled expulsion decree caused many Jews to return to the cities of Lithuania. A great number of Jews, however, decided not to return and remained on the feudal estates. These Jews were in later years the founders of dozens of Jewish cities and towns in the province of Vilna and the surrounding area.

The exact date when Sventzian was founded is not known, but it is commonly accepted that it was one of the oldest cities in the area of Vilna (this according to the Polish Geographic Dictionary, which was published in Warsaw in 1895).

The Jewish settlement in and around Sventzian developed only because of the Jews who had found a safe haven on the feudal estates during the years 1495-1503.

The Jews, who because of the expulsion decree had settled on the Tserklishki Estate, were certainly the major reason for and formed the nucleus of the Jewish settlement in Sventzian. The whole area around the city of Sventzian belonged to the well-known magnate family of Polish nobility, Potocki. The members of their dynasty are embalmed in the church across from the palace near the highway which goes from Sventzian to Vilna. The church has the Latin inscription “Spec in Deo” (Trust in God) written on it.

The palace itself and all its surroundings are located 2 kilometers from the city on a hill, surrounded by forests and lanes of ancient trees, lakes, and a beautiful park, which beautifies the magnificently built palace. All of this is located near the highway which leads to Sventzian. The city is located at the foot of the hill.

The Potockis were the masters of the whole area. They were considered to be friendly to Jews and were the protectors of the Jews in those times.

(The event that happened to one of the Potockis in Vilna is typical. Valentin Potocki, a member of this noble family, converted. He is known in Jewish literature as “the righteous convert of Vilna.” Under no circumstances did he want to go back to Catholicism and was, therefore, sentenced to death by burning. The Jews buried his ashes in the Jewish cemetery in Vilna and on the site of his grave there later grew a gigantic tree which looked like a person who had spread his arms wide. Under the shade of this tree, the Jews of Vilna used to say memorial prayers and honor the martyr who had been burned at the stake.

Many legends were told in Vilna about this righteous convert, legends which enriched Jewish folklore and found echoes in Jewish literature.

There is absolutely no doubt that the founders of the permanent Jewish community in Sventzian were the far-flung Jewish settlers of the above-mentioned Tserklishki Estate as well as other estates in that area.

Jews always strove to live among other Jews for religious reasons so that they could pray together at least on the Sabbath, holidays, and the High Holy Days. First a minyan was created, then they pooled their resources, hired a teacher and they had a school so that the children could learn Hebrew and be able to say blessings, say kaddish, and know the most important, most necessary laws of [Jewish] daily life. From this there developed the Jewish community life of the city.

Of course, not all of the settlers left their estates and villages and moved to the city. Monetary considerations forced them to remain where they could earn a living. Prospects in the city were limited in those days; and they had to content themselves with coming to the city for holidays, and for the High Holy Days so that they would not forget their Judaism, to give their Creator a spiritual accounting, and rededicate themselves to keeping his Torah.

For the most part, but with certain exceptions, the settler was characterized by separateness and ignorance. He was limited by having lived in the village for generations without any opportunities for teaching his children the basics necessary for being a simple Jew, for heeding the positive and negative commandments. All of this used to disappear when the Jews from the towns and villages moved to the city, which is what they wanted to do! Nevertheless quite a lot of Jews were still in the villages and feudal estates around Sventzian and in even further outreaches of the area even by the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth centuries.

Batskenik, Zablatsishek, Favevyurke, Ligumi, Fashumeni, Shimini, Vigodke, and many other rural settlements had some Jews living there.

In addition, Jews still lived on the following estates: Tserklishki, Stalinslavov, Shvinte, Zulave, and others as tenants, leaseholders, innkeepers, and millers.

All of these above-mentioned villages and estates were the residences of our great great grandfathers and grandmothers, the founders and builders of Sventzian, the city of our birth.

[Col. 85]

A Political Map of Sventzian and Its Vicinity after World War I


Topography and Demography of the Area of Sventzian

Sventzian - the capitol city - the specific characteristics of the area – official statistics of the Jews in the city and surrounding region.

The city of Sventzian is located 84 kilometers south of Vilna, on the main highway which goes from Vilna through Polotsk to Moscow. This is the road which connects Western and Central Europe to the southern part of the continent.

Sventzian was proclaimed the capitol city of the district of Vilna in 1795 after the third partition of Poland. At that time, the country was definitively divided and occupied by the three neighboring countries: Austria, Prussia, and Russia.

Lithuania, according to geographic location, was given to Russia -- and as a matter of course, Sventzian also.

Greater Sventzian at that time took up an area of 4,827.5 square versts[1] -- that is, approximately 5 thousand square kilometers.

On the southern side, this region was bounded by the greater Kovno area and further around lay Disne, Ashmener, and the Vilna area.

All of these areas belonged to the region of greater Vilna. The mail routes connected them in all directions: to Vilna--through Pobrodz and Kimelishok; Dvinsk--through Dugelishok and Vidz; Gluboke--through Haydutsishok, Kamen and Postav; Svir--through Koblinik and Miadzol.

The topography of the Svintsyna area is slightly hilly. Twenty-two percent of the whole area was used by the village population for agriculture. Thirty-two percent of the whole area was overgrown with woods (1600 square kilometers).

The biggest forests in this area were: Labanarer, Dugalishker, Kaltinianer, Tserklishker, Karkazhiner, and Baranover.

In addition, there were many other smaller woods in the area.


Sventzian as Photographed from the Lintuper Hill


The region of greater Sventzian had 106 lakes which occupied an area of 210 square kilometers. The largest lake in the region, which was also the largest in Poland-Lithuania, was Garatch. It took up 80 square kilometers. Other lakes, in order of size starting with the biggest, were: Myadzl, Lishe, Svir, Shvakshta, Kreton, Furki, Snavelishki, Zhemyane, and other smaller ones.

The inhabitants, who were concentrated around the lakes, occupied themselves, for the most part, with catching fish.

The flowing waters of the rivers which cut through the region were utilized as a mechanical means of running the water mills, the saw mills in the woods, and other things.

The flowing waters were connected to Lake Vilye and further away to Nyeman, Disenke, and Dvine, which empty into the Baltic Sea. The lakes were used as a natural and inexpensive means of transportation and connected our area with all of the large cities. In the near surroundings, this means, with Vilna, Kovno, Memel, Dvinsk and Riga.

This was the reason that a great forestry industry and lumber trade developed around the lakes and rivers close to the large forests. These industries were supported by the inexpensive means of transportation and natural mechanical source of energy.

In the year 1862, the Warsaw-Petersburg railroad line was built. It bisected the whole length of the region from Vilna to Dvinsk. At that time there were the following stations: Podbrodz, New Sventzian, Ignaline, and Duksht. With the advent of the railroad, the area was enriched with new towns, because these points developed in a short time and grew into large Jewish settlements.

In forming the Sventzian region, 4 police districts were formed for administrative reasons; and, out of those, 22 parishes were formed. The police districts were: Haydutsishok, Vishnyeve, Lintup, and Kaltinian.

The area had 41 cities. They were, in alphabetical order, as follows:

1. Ignaline 2. Bilegrudek 3. Gaviken 4. Dugelishok 5. Danisheva 6. Duksht 7. Haydutsishok 8. Vishnyeve 9. Voystum 10. Zasvir 11. Zheladz 12. Zodzishok 13. Terets 14. Lintup 15. Lingmian 16. Labanar 17. Meligan 18. Nyesnyenishok 19. New Sventzian 20. Svir 21. Sviranek 22. Sarakpol 23. Skadutchishok 24. Spyala 25. Strunoyits 26. Podbrodz 27. Palush 28. Faringe 29. Pashumeni 30. Favevyurke 31. Tseykin 32. Kimelishok 33. Kabilnik 34. Kamay 35. Klushtsyan 36. Katzeygishok 37. Kaltinian 38. Konstantinove 39. Karkazishok 40. Kukutsishok 41. Shemyatove.

According to the official statistics of the Polish Geographic Dictionary published in Warsaw in 1895, the general population of the Sventzian area was 145,525 in the year 1880. In the year 1897, it was 172,000.

They were divided as follows: 82% Lithuanian, 6.5% White Russian, 5.5% Polish, 5.5% Jews, .5% Mohammedans, Protestants, and others (Tartars, Gypsies, Germans).

In the year 1880, the city of Sventzian had a population of 6795. Among them were: 4,480 Jews, 880 Orthodox, 813 Catholics, 613 Greek Orthodox, 7 Mohammedans, Tartars, and 2 Protestants.

TheJewish Encyclopedia (published in Moscow in 1900) mentions that there were Jews in all of the towns in the Sventzian region. How many of them there were is given in numbers only in those towns where the general population totaled more than 500.

The breakdown is as follows:

Jews in Sventzian Region Shtetls

Sventzian 462 1544 4480 3172 6025
Haydutsishok - 570 - 1373 2247
Svir - 491 - 1114 1668
Dugalishok - 441 - - -
Kamay - 199 - 155 622
Dodzishok - 184 - - -
Lintup - 151 - 238 685
Koblinik - 140 - 591 1055
Meligan - - - 118 517
New Sventzian - - - 540 1340
Kimelishok - - - 101 507
Total in Region (excluding Sventzian) 4051 - -

It is worth mentioning that according to the above statistics there was a great change in the number of Jews in Sventzian during different eras.

In the year 1765 the city had only 462 Jews. By the second census, the Jewish population had an increase of 3 or 4 times that amount. This is thanks to the creation of an administrative center which served the cities of the area and increased job opportunities for Jews. From the surrounding villages, estates and parish towns the Jews moved to Sventzian. Their numbers continued to grow, and by the census of 1880 there were already 4,480 Jews--that is, a ten-fold increase.

The decrease in population comes in the 80's, when a great wave of immigration out of Russia took place because of the political conditions in that country, affecting Jewish social conditions. At that time, hundreds of Svintsyaners left the city and went with the flow: some to the east, some to the west, some across the sea to America, to South Africa and to Palestine.

Certain local events also added to the diminution of the Jewish population in the city. These were the two great conflagrations in the city, one in 1887 and the other in 1891. We will talk about these at a later time. By the year 1897, the Jewish population was only 3172 and this is the number more or less at which the population remained until the decimation of the Jewish settlement there.

Sventzian always considered itself to be an important Jewish settlement in the province of Vilna in Lithuania. This settlement disappeared, along with all of the other previously enumerated Jewish settlements, with the general annihilation of Jews in Europe in the years 1941- 1945.


Sventzian in World History

The city at the crossroads of wandering nations -- Napoleon and his army in the city -- The historical house -- A memorial in Sventzian.

According to the Polish Geographic Dictionary, in the 16th century Sventzian was occupied by the crusaders who had marched into Eastern Europe from the west. The gastaltsn[2] Swedes coming from the north also didn't avoid the city. There were also Tartars who had remained after their wanderings and expansionist activities in that century.

The wanderings and wars of these various tribes comprise a tragic chapter in Jewish history, because with the coming of these occupiers and after their departure, it was always the Jews, no matter where they were, who suffered because they were always accused of having good relations with the enemy camp, and for this they were always well rewarded. We don't really know accurately the numbers of Jews from this city who were murdered and martyred.

Sventzian is especially noted on the map of Jewish history because of Napoleon Bonapart's march to Moscow.

Napoleon was forced to go through the city with his army. They had great difficulty in crossing the River Kuna in Sventzian, which was very muddy at the time. The retreating Russian army damaged and burned all of the bridges.

A description of the retreating Russian army can be found in L.B. Tolstoy's historical work War and Peace. In a certain chapter Tolstoy describes one of the heroes, Rostov, the lieutenant of the Russian Hussar regiment, saying about them that they left only after destroying the food warehouses and the bridges. The city remained in [Rostov's] memory because it was there that he degraded and changed his sergeant major, because he was not able to control the Hussars, who, after getting 5 barrels of brandy in town, got drunk and in this inebriated condition left the city. (The Jews surely had something to do with this.)

This occurred at the end of June 1812. Napoleon spent the night in Sventzian. He stayed at the house of the Pole, Giruts, on Vilna Street opposite the Russian church. From the balcony of this house, he watched his French Army go by.

In 1912, when Russia celebrated the 100th anniversary of their victory over Napoleon and his army, a special museum was opened in Moscow for the specific purpose of memorializing this historic war.

High government officials and generals of the Russian Army were on the organizing committee. They decided to drive an automobile along the whole route that Napoleon took through Russia. They rode through Kovno, Vilna, Sventzian, Gluboke, Ushats, Kamen, Vitebsk, Smolensk all the way to Moscow. They gathered information and documents about Napoleon's army everywhere they went.

A delegation consisting of Generals Renenkamf, Kalatsev, and Afanasyev visited the historic house, photographed it, and hung up a sign which proclaimed the extraordinary fact that Napoleon had slept there.

Sventzian was always proud of that house. People from the whole surrounding area used to come and look at this historic edifice, which was called “Napoleon's House.”


Napoleon's House


Sventzian in Polish History

The Polish uprising -- Marshal Pilsudski --Pilsudski's will

Great scientific achievements were attained and great changes in the life of all peoples and countries in Western and Central Europe took place in the nineteenth century. Russia became a powerful monarchy following the pattern of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The despotic government ruled the land, and the general population was oppressed and unhappy.

In order to divert the rightful anger of the peasants and the poor in the wrong direction, the ruling class incited them against the Jews, saying that they were the cause of the peasants' lowly condition. There were constant conflicts and even organized attacks and pogroms against the Jews.

The Polish uprisings against the Czarist regime had a great influence on these events. Many Jewish fighters also took part in these uprisings. To participate in the Koshtyushko uprising, a special Jewish Legion was formed under the leadership of the Jew, Berek Yoselevitch.

The area of Sventzian was an important focal point in all of the Polish uprisings. The Polish population there was overtly nationally disposed.

In later years, the Poles would proudly say that one of the most important gatherings of the uprising of 1863 took place in Sventzian on Bartushki's Hill near the Jewish cemetery on Blakishker Street in knowledge of the Jews who secretly supported the resistance fighters.

The Czar used all the means at his disposal to quell the uprisings. Many Poles from the area of Sventzian were deported to hard labor camps. The property and estates of those who were sent away were divided among Russian immigrants to the area. Erstwhile military men took their places (Medyushkan, Batskenik, Yurgelishok, Zusine). This new element changed the relationship of the local population to the Jews even more.

The Polish national hero, Yuzef Pilsudski, was raised and received his earliest education in Sventzian. It was there that his spirit of extremism crystallized. He was active in all the Polish underground freedom organizations. He also took part in various terrorist activities and became especially renowned for his ambush of the mail train near Podbrodz, not far from Bezdan, where he and his friends stopped the running train and stole a large sum of money in order to finance their revolutionary activities (P.P.S. --Polish Socialist Workers Party).

After the ambush, he was hidden for a certain time by a Jew in New Sventzian. As he was coming out of his hiding place, he was caught and sent to Siberia. He was able to escape and move out of the country.

After the First World War, he returned to Poland and became famous as the liberator and creator of the new Poland.

In the will he made before he died in 1935, he requested that he be buried in different parts of the country, that is, his body in Crocow at Wawal Castle, where all of the Polish kings are interred; his brain to be donated to the research branch of the University of Warsaw and his heart to be buried in Vilna, the capital city of the area of Sventzian and of his estate Zulave, where he was born.


Sventzian in Jewish History

The first germ of enlightenment -- secularism and tradition -- attempts at a critical approach to the ancient way of thinking --reforms of certain elements of religious tradition --Rabbi Reines and the historic yeshiva in the city --the reputation of this modern yeshiva in the world -- because from Sventzian Torah and light go out to the generations.

The historical process of national and social awakening, which was strengthened in the second half of the 19th century, brought with it the end of what was--for all intents and purposes--slave ownership, gave rights to the peasants in the land, did away with the Jewish ghettos in the city, and gave rise to legal cultural movements, knowledge, and progress. The illegal revolutionary movements also had their influence on the Jews of the city. But for the most part, the movements with the most influence on the Jewish population were those pertaining to the Jews: the Enlightenment, return to Zion, political Zionism, the “Bund,” etc.

With the start of a new era, there developed in Sventzian a large group of Jewish intellectuals. The city produced famous doctors, engineers, and social activists. These are the doctors: Yacobson, Kovarsky, Kheyfets. Lawyers: Tavroginsky, Hirsh and Yeshayahu Levin. Engineers: Julian Bak, Arkady Kramer--who was also one of the theorists and founders of the “Bund.”

The Svintsyaner students had a good reputation in all of the high schools, middle schools, and trade schools. We see this mentioned also by Leyb Spektor in his work My Universities, in which he mentions the superlative qualities of the students of Sventzian in Moscow as well as the high level of their discourse in friendly student discussions.

We also find a notice in the Melits, published in Petersburg on June 30, 1888, number 142, about the Sventzian graduates of the state high school: Y. Bitsunsky, Y. Kovarsky, and Herts Kovarsky, who received gold and silver medals for graduating with honors from the school in Riga.

Sventzian distinguishes itself in a very original way in the history of the Enlightenment. The case that resounded throughout the Jewish world had to do with the head of the Jewish Judicial Court, Rabbi Yitskhok Yakov Reines, who held this position in the city from 1869 to 1885.

In the memoirs of Rabbi Y. L. Hacohen-Maymon, we find the following: “While he was in Sventzian, the young and talented rabbi became well known throughout the world. It was in Sventzian that Rabbi Reines wrote his massive tomes Road by the Sea and The Stamp of the Plan in which he founds a new system, a modern method of studying the Talmud based on logic and pedagogical analysis. Here Rabbi Reines criticizes the old system which had been used for generations.”

The opinions of Rabbi Maymon confirm a notice that was printed in the press of that time in 1879 ( Melits, no. 7, February 13, 1879):

The great rabbi who was a resident of the city of Sventzian, Rabbi Yitskhok Yakov Reines, worked on a book with great diligence for many years, an encyclopedia of 36 volumes of Hebrew literature which was to be 12,000 pages long.

This encyclopedia of good taste and knowledge contains, in the proper proportions, the written Torah and the oral Torah, and according to good common sense and history, the rules of law and tradition. Everything that he speaks about is explained from different aspects. Because of this, everyone who seeks the words of G-d will find what he is looking for.

And because the respected author was unable to assume the publication costs of this very big work himself, he was advised to publish only a very small part of it. It contains five parts, which are as follows: “The Basis of Faith,” the first part, will be about the history of the people of Israel; part two, the connection between the written Torah and the tradition; part three, laws of everyday life based on good common sense and on the Talmud; the fourth part—rules of legal matters; the fifth part deals with legend.

In order to demonstrate his stated pedagogic suggestions, Rabbi Reines founded a yeshiva in Sventzian--a modern one where secular subjects were also taught: Russian, German, mathematics, Jewish history and world history, and all other subjects taught in a regular school.

Rabbi Reines founded the yeshiva after he had suggested the project at a rabbinic conference in Petersburg, which was organized by the central government after the assassination attempt on the Tsar, Alexander the Second (1881).

At the conference, at which current Jewish matters were discussed, Rabbi Reines came out with his revolutionary suggestion to modernize the yeshiva [system]. Rabbi Reines promoted his project by saying that if general education was not instituted and the old methods of teaching Talmud were not changed, they would lose the majority of the young men who were already following the ideas of the Enlightenment. “It is our responsibility to give them this, so that they will not go looking elsewhere,” the rabbi of Sventzian explained.

In attendance at the conference were great rabbis and accomplished Torah scholars, great luminaries of that time: Rabbi Gaon[3] A. Spektor of Kovno, Rabbi Gaon Y. D. Moloveytski of Brisk, Rabbi Gaon A. Kh. Vayzel of Lodz, and other great men of that generation. Among them was also the young Rabbi Reines of Sventzian.

The other rabbis, who were still shortsighted in regard to the real life and progress of the times, at first opposed the impudent suggestion and took it off the agenda.

The brash Rabbi Reines was not deterred and founded a prototype yeshiva based on his vision.

About the founder of this historic yeshiva, Shimon Yakov Viduchinsky writes the following:

In the first days of the summer, a school was opened in our city by permission of the government. The school was named after the head of the Jewish court of our city, Rabbi Yitskhok Yakov Reines. This was a large yeshiva dedicated to the study of Talmud and the necessary elementary science subjects. This yeshiva did not omit anything which modern times demanded.

The honored name of the great scholar mentioned above, who established the yeshiva, who will always watch over it and be devoted to it, will assure its safe-keeping. Everything the yeshiva does will be based on common sense and knowledge. Everyone who knows his name and has read his invaluable books will not turn away from this obligation or from us, who recognize that during these last twelve years, from the time this great scholar settled in our city, everything that he did was fitting and appropriate in the eyes of G-d and man. From the beginning, we predict a good future for this yeshiva which is in such capable hands. And I am here to represent the goals which the above-mentioned great rabbi envisioned when he founded the yeshiva:

  1. To educate community leaders according to the standards of our generation, leaders who will be outstanding rabbis in Israel, and with this:
  2. Will be perfect in Hebrew, Russian, and Yiddish, and they will be knowledgeable in mathematics, geography, world history in general and the history of our people and Russian history in specific, and basic sciences. They should be adept in general knowledge which elevates person who knows it, even if they are not specialists, but [they should know the subjects] to point that they will not be embarrassed to speak of them in public;
  3. Not to overload its students with so much responsibility that they will be fatigued. The accomplished this by instilling correct order and good discipline in the running of the yeshiva, it was “agreed to take it in steps,” as the fable says;
  4. To observe the laws of hygiene and diet by establishing the yeshiva in a large building open space and good air so that it will smell good. In general, the maintaining of healthful conditions should be the major consideration in running the yeshiva;
  5. To enlighten them [the students] gradually in the ways of leading a Jewish community to educate them to give appropriate sermons that will be understood by everyone.

    From our own knowledge, the value of this great benefit to our nation, roused us to put it into writing and to tell the general public about it by sending this to various people.

    Our hope is strong that that this yeshiva will elevate the knowledge of Israel and its wisdom and become the crown of its glory. Everyone who desires to know the details of the program and exactly how it runs will be able to turn to the great scholar himself, the head of the judicial court of our city, at the address written below, and he will answer you himself point by point.

Signed by the Government Rabbi -- Khanon Rosenberg

I am also here to request on behalf of the people of our city and its leaders that the esteemededitor of the newspaper HaTzefira publish the whole story as well as the righteous letters that will be written.

Signed by a community representative -- Mordkhe Vilik”

Zev Kovarsky of Sventzian writes in HaMelits, Petersburg (page 987, on December 21, 1882, number 49):

This winter the local rabbi, Rabbi Yitskhok Yakov Reines, with permission of the government, founded a yeshiva with seven grades.

Rabbi Reines' yeshiva was housed in a spacious building in order for the young people of Israel to study Torah, faith, and knowledge as taught by outstanding teachers and wonderful deans, and it became a kind of seminary for Jews.

At the present time, there are approximately 40 students enrolled in this yeshiva. There are some beginners, but most of the students have already mastered the Talmud, its commentaries, and the knowledge necessary for our time.

In the month of October, the Director came from Vilna to visit the middle school here. He visited the rabbi and asked him questions such as why he had found it necessary to establish the yeshiva. The rabbi answered, “I realized that the weak point of Socialism was the fact that in its heart it lacked faith. Our Torah and Talmud teach us not to mix with different cultures and to be loyal to the government of the land of our birth and to pray for peace in the land. I, therefore, established this yeshiva to try to instill in the hearts of its students the knowledge of Torah, so that they will not be influenced by the negative aspects of the culture in which they grew up.” The Director was pleased with this response and blessed him [the rabbi] hoping that he would be successful in his goal.

On the first of Kislev, the students were tested before the city officials on what they had studied during the month of Kislev, and they were pleased with the results.

Zev Kovarsky

At the behest of the wealthy donor, Mr. Yehoshua Tsaytlin of Moscow, we sent 50 rubles at this time to help support this special yeshiva.


The founding of the yeshiva, its progressive course of study, as we see from the assessments of the [above] correspondents, made the appropriate impression on the broader circles [of Torah] learning in the land. As we see, support money began to pour in to the editorial offices of HaMelits, which forwarded it to Sventzian. We believe that the well-known personality, Yehoshua Tsaytlin of Moscow, was not the only one who sent such large sums to cover the budget of the yeshiva and to show support for the rabbi of Sventzian for his phenomenal revolutionary accomplishment in the field of enlightenment by his bringing light and knowledge into the hermetically sealed yeshivas of that time.

The yeshiva progressed; the number of students doubled, reaching 80, with most of them coming from the local area and far-reaching areas of the country.

Yakov Kovarsky writes ( HaMelits, no. 36, page 581, May 13, 1883):

The yeshiva which was founded by the great scholar of this place became more and more successful, until there were 80 young men, who came from near and far to listen to the classes on the Torah and its commentaries.

The yeshiva had plenty of room, large, clean classrooms and nice courtyards. Even outside, the founding rabbi was able to see his students in all of their activities. In order to inculcate in them good and sensible qualities, he appointed over them 6 yeshiva deans, brilliant Torah scholars, and 5 teachers to teach the students modern languages. Some of them had already completed their secular studies in the gymnasium[4] or the Institute of Vilna, which was well known for its good education.

Our strong hope is that the yeshiva will produce talented students in whom will be combined Torah and wisdom, fear of G-d, and respect for their country. [It is hoped that] the young men who will finish their course of study in this yeshiva will be fit to sit with the judges [of the land] and will be fair.

Yakov Bar Leyb Kovarsky

Sventzian and its yeshiva--the first revolutionary accomplishment in Jewish education--knowledge for its own sake: study of Torah, commentaries and exegesis, and general culture and knowledge, led by the Gaon Rabbi Reines, caused a great debate in religious circles of the city and the country.

The struggle, which the rabbis proclaimed started in Petersburg at the already mentioned conference, they now promoted with more energy against the yeshiva and its founder. (Rabbi Maymon's memoirs)

There was great controversy raging in the Warsaw press and in the Petersburg press ( HaTzefira and HaMelits).

The most widespread paper of that time, HaMelits, wanting to avoid public scandal in this area, placed itself “outside the camp,” and published the following letter ( HaMelits, no. 23, pg. 967, dated March 21, 1883)

To Those Who Praise and Those Who Profane the Yeshiva of Sventzian,

When you have different opinions and argue with each other, some elevate to the skies the good qualities of this yeshiva and its founder, and others degrade him until he is dust. We will, therefore, not be able to participate in this dispute or judge if it is for the sake of G-d or not, if what the rabbi is doing is for altruistic reasons or as an employee of the government or as a powerful rabbi of the great Torah scholars of the Enlightenment. We are not able to collect references from those people we do not know.

Signed, the publisher (editors)

The controversy did not end with this letter from the editors of HaMelits. It was difficult for the religious world to swallow such a hard thing, but even certain progressive circles of Sventzian expressed negative reactions to the yeshiva, and they immediately sent a response with a general condemnation about the course of study and the general nature of the yeshiva according to their opinion.

(HaMelits-- Petersburg, no. 41, pg, 653 dated May 29, 1883)

About the yeshiva in the city of Sventzian --

In the editorial of HaMelits , no. 23, “To Those Who Praise and Those Who Profane. . .”

The words of both sides are correct. The first ones [5] are satisfied with very little. They are pleased with the Torah institution which opened for children, both big and small, to study Torah and also to begin to learn Russian. [They are pleased] also with their teachers of Torah and secular subjects, although they [the teachers] are inexperienced. It is enough for them that the place was changed and that the name was changed from kheder to seminary and that they are a “class” now rather than a “grade.”[6] The ringing of the bell in the yeshiva that signals the students that it is time to either come or go also pleases the parents

The others[7] are not satisfied with this. They heard about the great publicity that was published in the journal HaLevonon , and read about the extensive program also in other Jewish publications announcing that the gates of knowledge, of Torah and Enlightenment, were open for anyone to come and study in the seminary or in the rabbinic program in the city of Sventzian (even though this was not the appropriate place).

These good rumors brought joy to the people's hearts. Their desires and their willingness made them believe that the seminary or rabbinic program mentioned above would fulfill their desires, would benefit the community, but they were mistaken. Now their eyes are open and they see clearly that this yeshiva there will not produce for Israel Torah rabbis and enlightened scholars who will bring the necessary blessings and community leaders for our time. For this school has no advantage over the religious schools which already exist elsewhere, which the people of those other cities founded in their own towns with the necessary money. They didn't make announcements in publications to solicit funds from Jewish community leaders or philanthropists. They didn't make a big deal out of nothing. To open the eyes of the community leaders and philanthropists, we the undersigned feel obligated to announce publicly to anyone who will listen to words of truth describing conditions as they are.

In approval [of the above], we came to sign: Akiva Kovarsky, Mordkhe Getsl Gurvitz, Meyer Bitsunsky, Asher Kovarsky, Nakhum Tsvi Gurvitz.

The comments of the editors of HaMelits : “We investigated and gathered information from trustworthy people, and they told us personally that these are indeed honorable people on whom we can depend.”

The energy, which the yeshiva brought to the spiritual life of the city, took root in Sventzian, which had always devoted itself with fervor to the striving for a very high level of enlightenment, culture, and knowledge. Consider the following: the first modern yeshiva in the era of Enlightenment, a modern religious school with vocational and continuing education, the first Jewish humanistic gymnasium to use Jewish languages as the languages of instruction in rebuilt Poland. Modern and progressive high schools and elementary schools taught in Yiddish, and Hebrew was taught in the Jewish secular schools.

Rabbi Reines fought heroically to achieve his goal. He organized the students and the progressive youth in the city during their free months, when they had finished their studies in the gymnasium, other institutes, or high schools, to do fund raising and give lessons in the yeshiva on various subjects.

One of the students active in this area was Julian Bak, Bere Itse's son, who later became well known in the country as an engineer, and as Julian Barishevitch Bak, the publisher of the cadet-journal Resht in Moscow.

In the end, the heroic martyr, [the proponent] of light and knowledge, Rabbi Reines, was forced to close the yeshiva; and as a result he left Sventzian and took a position as a rabbi in Lida. The main reasons were: the Chabad Khassidim, the greatest opposing faction in the city, and other learned Jews who were also great financiers in the city--those who signed the above letter: Akiva and Asher Kovarsky, Mordkhe Getsl and Nakhman Gurvitz, and Meyer Bitsunsky. In addition, there were these factors: the financial deficits and the persecutions, which the rabbinic world directed at the Rabbi of Sventzian and at the yeshiva: the betrayal of Rabbi Reines by an informer, which led to the Rabbi's being arrested in Petersburg and held in jail among common criminals. Thanks to the intervention of respected community leaders in the capitol city, who knew him personally, the rabbi was freed.

The historic yeshiva, which had existed for four years, closed in 1885.

Rabbi Reines wrote more about the actual details of the yeshiva and the events that developed around it in his book Two Luminaries, which appeared two years before his death in Lida in 1915.

* * *

On the 22nd of June 1887, the great fire killed three-fourths of the city's population. Two children were also killed.

Four hundred houses around the market square, on New Sventzian Street, and the synagogue courtyard, being for the most part the Jewish quarter, went up in smoke. Approximately 600 families were left without a roof over their heads. The destruction in Sventzian was enormous, and it created a situation of dire necessity.

Most of the [financial] aid was contributed by the wealthy Jews in town whose money and estates were outside the area of town that was affected by the conflagration.

While the fire was still raging, Gabriella Skirmunt, the owner of the Shemyatover Courtyard[8] and Mill, sent 250 pood[9] of flour for bread and 370 rubles for the needy.

The special assistance committees for Sventzian in Riga, Dvinsk, and Vilna helped; they sent food, clothes, and money.

(All of these details are immortalized in HaMelits, 1444, June 29, 1887.)

Four years later, in May of 1891, on a Wednesday night, a second fire broke out, and again over 50 houses were burnt to the ground. The fire occurred in the middle of the night and no one managed to save anything, no household articles, no merchandise, or stores of grain from the warehouses or homes. Also, none of this was insured. Yehuda Leyb Shpiz writes about this in HaMelits, 105, May 13, 1891.

These terrible and extreme events in the city did not deter those involved in cultural activities from their work. With the closing of the yeshiva, the broader circles of the city, including those who were opposed to the yeshiva, founded another school, a modern Torah institution which was practically identical to the previous yeshiva in a pedagogic sense. The curriculum of the school was: secular subjects, part-time vocational instruction according to the desire and the ability of the student, and also religious education.

The difference was that the goal of this yeshiva was to produce rabbis and community leaders, or as Rabbi Reines put it: “The graduates of the yeshiva should be respected, up-standing people, of whom one wouldn't be ashamed in society as they go about their business of doing community good works, nor would one be ashamed of them in government office.

One can read the following about the new school in HaMelits (No. 200, September 3, 1892):

In these days, the only public schools open wide to our young men are the elementary Hebrew day-schools. It is our obligation to pay special attention to their good points and their bad points.

The goal of this letter is to let the public know how valuable this school in our city is to the general public, so that our fellow Jews who live in other cities without a school like this can enroll their sons in our school, which will serve their purpose.

The reputation of this school will grow from year to year now that the famous writer and educator, Mr. Katznelson, was appointed as principal. The parents as well as the students will be very pleased with both the Torah and the secular curricula.

The students will get broad knowledge in Russian language and literature, mathematics, geography, history, science, good writing, drawing and sculpting, music, and calisthenics.

The Torah curriculum consists of the following: Tanakh ,[10] Hebrew language and grammar, foundations of religion, and the history of the Jewish people. Hebrew will be spoken in the teaching of the language, [an innovation] which the teacher, Shalom HaLevi Epstein is planning, with the approval of the principal, to bring to this school for the first time. Everyone who supports the Jewish people and its language will laud this event, which fulfills the dictum of our sages: “The study of Torah and the way of the land.”[11]

The following vocational departments were established in the school: carpentry, metal working, and welding. The students will be occupied with these subjects a few hours every day under the supervision of artists and craftsmen. The students who have completed their studies in the school will be able to find paying jobs. Those who plan to continue their religious education and enter the university and become teachers in Israel will also benefit from knowing these subjects.

The principal of the school, Mr. Katznelson, in his enthusiasm to benefit young men, opened the gates of the school wide at the start of this year, [not only to local boys but] also to boys of other cities. Their parents will be able to get room and board for them in the house of a respectable member of the community at reasonable rates. The teachers will monitor the students' progress in Torah and secular studies.

We must also mention, with esteem, Mr. Asher Kovarsky, who was once again elected as an honored member of our school board. We have high hopes that in the future he will continue to support the school generously so that the school can be kept in good condition.

A. B. (One who recognizes what is good)

In HaTzefira of Warsaw (No. 89, 4/22/1893) Yakov Kovarsky of Sventzian writes about the rich school curriculum and its contents, about the pedagogic achievements and also about the satisfactory results of the first academic year in the school. Kovarsky also emphasizes the large number of students who come from distant places in order to study at this school in Sventzian which has become famous for the high level of the education it offers.

With the passing of one of the pillars of strength of that era--Bere Itse Bak, of blessed memory, the cultural activists of Sventzian suffered a great loss. But “the intelligentsia,” the nickname which was used to describe these Svintsyaners, did not cease their cultural activities and continued on until the last day.

Yosef Svirsky writes in HaMelits (No.102, May 9, 1895) the following about the death of the above-mentioned community activist B. I. Bak:

The Jewish people of this city suffered an irreplaceable loss with the death of one of its best sons, the venerable and accomplished Dov-Yitzhak Bak at age 71.

The deceased was a religious man, a very talented scholar, and also a community leader who devoted himself faithfully to the public good. There wasn't a charitable institution that didn't have him in the forefront. And he was happy to do what he could. He was intimately involved in all matters concerning our city. And when he thought of something beneficial to the city, he didn't rest or relax until he had accomplished his goal.

Eight years ago when our city went up in flames and with it also our small synagogue, he rebuilt it, improved it, and decorated it luxuriously until the expense reached 10,000 rubles, which our citizens considered a great sum of money. He raised all of this money by himself, without anyone's help. He improved the school in our city, which was in such bad condition that it was almost closed several times.

He fought against all the obstacles which stood in his way and was able to overcome them, so that eventually he set the school to rights. Now the school is something to be proud of.

It's three months since he fell ill with kidney failure, from which he never recovered. He died on the 4th of May. He was taken to the cemetery with great honor. Many people followed the casket to pay their last respects. The great Torah scholar, Rabbi Pinkhas Rozovsky, gave a moving elegy and everyone cried a great deal. His soul will be remembered by the living.

Sventzian, May 4th, 1895
Yosef Svirsky

Julian Bak followed in the footsteps of his father. He was a great authority in the history of Russia at that time. While he was in Sventzian he was active in community affairs. Later, he came to the city often to visit his parents' graves. In the meantime, he donated large sums of money to all the institutions in which he and his father had been involved.

One of his visits is immortalized in HaMelits (No. 88, April 23, 1898) in an article written by Yakov Shmuel Minkin:

On Sunday the 26th of Adar, the engineer, Mr. Julian Bak, came to our city from the capital city Petersburg to commemorate the anniversary of the death of his mother. He was treated with great honor in our old synagogue, which Dov Yitzhak, of blessed memory had rebuilt. Julian donated a large sum of money to benefit our city. The following is a list of his contributions and how the money was spent: for the holy ark – 300 rubles; for an interest-free loan fund to be established in our city – 2,000 rubles; for a religious school which he visited and in which the headmasters accorded him great honor and respect and the students sang songs in both Russian and Hebrew to honor him - 320 rubles; for the continued support of a fire station which had been established in our city by the mayor 2 years ago – 100 rubles; and for the indigent sick - 25 rubles. He also gave money for the poor of the city, and to anyone who stretched out his hand to him to ask for help he gave generously. He also gave a large donation to the fund that assured that the poor have what they need for Passover. Here I give him thanks and blessings in the name of the people of our city and we remember his generous heart in this book.

Yakov Shmuel Minkin

Yakov Shmuel was the young son of Leybe Minkin. At the beginning of the century, he left our city and immigrated to North America. He studied for 4 years at various rabbinical seminaries in Prague and in Berlin, where he received the degree of Doctor of Rabbinical Studies.

Rabbi Doctor Yakov Shmuel Minkin served as the Conservative rabbi of various places in Canada and the United States and contributed much to the Conservative Movement in these countries. He wrote books in English about the Khassidic Movement, Herod, Abarbanel and the Spanish Expulsion, the Rambam and his world. He also wrote various essays and he wrote for the daily newspaper.

Rabbi Doctor Minkin fulfilled his dream of visiting Israel. The first impression one got of him was of culture and wisdom as well as simplicity and friendliness, this son of Sventzian.

After he had been in Israel for only two weeks, he fell ill. He died on the 7th of Adar II[12] (March 13, 1962). May his soul always be remembered by the living. He was 80 years old when he died.

Until the last minute, his loyal wife Feyge Minkin, esq. stayed with him.


To Support and to Return to Zion

Rabbi Reines and The Jewish National Fund[13] -- Documents concerning various monies that were sent from Sventzian -- Mordkhe Getsl goes to the land of Israel and buys 5,000 dunam[14] of land -- “ The House of Jacob goes and we follow” was the Sventzian motto -- the first ownership of land.

As Rabbi Y. L. Hacohen-Maymon relates in his memoirs concerning the history of the “Mizrakhi Movement,” when Rabbi Reines was in Sventzian, he was very active in the Return-to-Zion Movement. In those days he was in contact with the representatives of the Return-to-Zion Movement: Rabbi Tsvi Kalisher of Teheran and Rabbi Gutmakher of Gridits in connection with the founding of the “Association of Yeshivas in Israel,” whose center was then Frankfort-on-Oder. Rabbi Reines suggested practical ways in which to realize the thoughts of the Diaspora.

It is not a coincidence that there were in Sventzian at that time, that is the 80's of the previous century, active fund-raisers who were collecting money for the Jewish settlements in Israel as well as very generous donors. This characterizes the high level and uniqueness of the kind of people in our city and their approach to the real problems of the time.

Today it is difficult to evaluate to what degree Rabbi Reines symbolized the Jewish community of the city. In fact, it was a reciprocal influence.

We find a letter very characteristic of Sventzian in the archives of the Jewish Agency in Jerusalem written on the 4th of October 1885.

The letter reads as follows:

To the Famous, Honored, Glorified Rabbi Meyerson, who seeks good for his people, our teacher to whom we are obligated--peace and blessings!

Enclosed please find 62 rubles that I have put aside donated from our city of Sventzian for the purpose of the settlement in Erets Yisroel and we would appreciate it very much if your eminence would give this money to the treasurer, Ignats Bornshteyn, and treat it in the same way that you treat other funds that come to you for the same purpose from different places. In addition there is the sum of 50 rubles for secure bonds which I will try to gather as soon as possible.

Many people in our small city liked the suggestion that the honorable and wise Mr. Meyerovitz published in the pamphlet about planting vineyards. Three or four people (among which I am one) were found who wanted to plant three or four vines in their names, but we didn't know how to go about it. I don't know if this suggestion has already been acted upon or not, and it awaits the approval of the esteemed organization.

With Respect and Admiration
Nakhman Gurvitz - Sventzian

The director of historical archives, Dr. Yisroel Kloyzner, explained in his citing of this article that its contents are connected to the plans of Menashe Meyerovitz of Rishon L'Tzion, who at that time led a multi-branched effort of colonization and planting of vineyards at the time of the First Immigration.[15]

In the year 1885, Avraham Solomyak of Sventzian ( who had been a student at the State Teachers' Institute in Vilna) also moved to Israel along with the well-known Mikhal Halperin of Vilna. They were among the first settlers and founders of Gedera, Nes Tziona, and Yesod Hama'ala.

A few years later, Mordechai Getsl Gurvitz of Sventzian also goes [to Palestine]. He and the Vilna group purchase large tracts of land. M. G. Gurvitz comes back in high spirits and he, as the town's emissary [to Palestine], is given a gala reception.

(HaMelits, Warsaw, No. 96, May 2, 1891)

Several days before the holiday of Passover, the wealthy, venerable, Mr. M. G. Gurvitz returned to our city from his trip to the Holy Land, where he had lived for 4 months.

Indeed, he didn't travel only to visit the land, our holy land but also to place a corner stone there for a settlement for several Jewish families and he bought 5,000 dunam of land. Then he was happy to return home.

The whole community turned out to give him an honorable welcome, including the great scholar Rabbi Pinkhas Rozovsky. The community gave Mr. Gurvitz a letter of appreciation and blessing from all of the community leaders of the city.

The heart of every person in the city was full of happiness when they heard his excited report about the holy land.

After the holy Sabbath, all of the community leaders got together in the house of the philanthropic sage, Mr. M. G. Gurvitz and all of them gave him their blessings. One of the schoolteachers of our city, Reb Sholom HaLevy Epstein, gave a speech, in excellent Hebrew, about the land of Israel to all those assembled. His words came straight from his heart and went straight to the hearts of his audience.

A. D. Lintufsky

The fact that land was bought through a transplanted Svintsyaner, Mr. Mordechai Getsl Gurvitz, is confirmed by a correspondent of the Vilna HaTzefira, No. 44 (1891).

In the above-mentioned correspondence we find the following details about the land purchase:

Mitskun and Bunimovitch also traveled to the land of Israel with M. G. Gurvitz of Sventzian as representatives of a group of rich Vilna Jews, “The Lovers of Zion,” who were in connection with the expert on the legality of the immigration and the settlements, the engineer Papirmayster of Rishon L'Tzion, concerning the buying of land.

The following well-known enlightened men of Vilna were also in touch with this group: Kapelnitski, Rabinovitch, and Shlosberg. According to the correspondence it seems that the latter also sent the requested sum: 15 thousand rubles to the delegation in Yaffo via a bank in Riga which was connected to that erstwhile settlement.

The purchased land is in the Sharon Valley on both sides of the Kaneh River. The Biblical dictionary describes the Kaneh River as follows: “The river is the border between Ephraim and Menashe (Joshua 16:8, 17:8). It is the largest tributary of the Yarkon River, whose source is in the hills of Ephraim in the Valley of Makhmatot (a city on the border between the tribes of Menashe and Ephraim, which is today called Khirbat Tanat, and is located approximately five kilometers southeast of Shkhem).

The river stretches about 30 kilometers to the west to Jaljilya in the land of Israel and 7 kilometers further from there through the Wadi Eshkar, until it joins the Yarkon River near Al-Makhmar. This is the area of Hertsilya-Kfar Saba.

One can only regret that none of the Svintsyaners in the settlement knew, until now that is, about the land bought by the Svintsyaner Mordechai Getsl Gurvitz which is located on the other side of the Jordan, on the other side of the border which we can't get to in order to get information about the legacy that the Svintsyaner “Lovers of Zion” left.

In the year 1888, Shimon Matzkin went to Israel. He is the son of Sholom-Yisroel and the brother of Leah-Sora (my mother). Due to visa difficulties, he remains stuck in Alexandria, Egypt and settles there. His brothers Khaim and Avram-Moyshe visit him there, but because of family circumstances and military duties they are forced to return. (Avram-Moyshe and his family went to live in Israel in the year 1921--with the third wave of immigration.)

Mordechai Tayts liquidates his business, sells his brick house in Sventzian and settles in Jerusalem. (He is the father of Khaya-Feyge who is the wife of Mendl Ginzberg.) His son, Avram Meyer Tayts, who then went to Riga, takes part in one of the first Zionist conferences of the Lovers of Zion which was held in Riga. He was also active in the Lovers of Zion Movement in Sventzian.

Getting ready to go are: Khanon Ginzburg, Ben-Tzion Katz, Kune-Feyge and her father. Some of those mentioned had already sent their baggage to the Port of Odessa, but the already mentioned fire in the city was the reason that they remained where they were.

In later years, the following families moved to Israel: Kovarsky, Templeman, the red-headed shoemaker among other individuals.

In 1904, Hirsh Yehuda Kovarsky, the brother of Leybl Bak's wife Malka and of Ben-Tzion Vayskunsky's wife Tsirl, liquidates his grocery and colonial store on Lintuper Street and moves to Israel. His son, Moyshe-Yosef, a watchmaker by trade, also packs his bags, and two years later also moves to Israel with his wife and only son of seven years old. They settle in Rekhovot. The young Ben-Tzion now lives in Nes Tziona and now manages agricultural properties and orchards. As he tells it, when the family came in 1906, his father and his grandfather wanted nothing at all to do with their previous trades or with other easy means of earning a living. They fulfilled their goal by learning agriculture on the farms of “Minukha and Nakhl” under Eisenberg's guidance. There they took the first step in the direction that his son continues to go with his sons, who are the 4th generation from the Svintsyaner Hirsh-Yehuda.

It is worthwhile to note that Moyshe-Yosef's wife, Khaya, is a sister of Yehuda-Leyb Doydubits's (Ben-David), one of the Shtrashuns of Vilna.

The Kovarsky family also got Ben-Tzion Vayskunsky's daughter, Tsivya, to come. (Today her name is Yudevitch and she lives in Nes Tziona.)

The reception of the erstwhile Rabbi of Sventzian, Rabbi Moshe-Avigdor Amiel, now the Chief Rabbi of Tel-Aviv-Yaffo, and the reports of this occasion in the Israeli press, 1935.

HaYesod, 21 Teves 1936:

On the occasion of the reception for the Chief rabbi of Tel-Aviv-Yaffo, our teacher, the great Rabbi Moyshe Avigdor Amiel:

Rabbi Sh. Y. Zevin



Today is a holiday for Tel-Aviv. Today Tel-Aviv welcomes its first chief rabbi, the great scholar Rabbi Moyshe Avigdor Amiel.

Rabbi Amiel is a well-known rabbi and not new to our community. For 30 years he's been affiliated with the rabbinate in important communities in a variety of places in the Diaspora. He has already succeeded in becoming quietly famous as one of the best rabbis and not necessarily because in his affiliation with the rabbinate of important communities.

Rabbi Amiel is among those who honor the place where they are, not one of those whom the place honors.

Sventzian, Groybe, and Antwerp received more from Rabbi Amiel in terms of fame and publicity than he received from them.

* * *

Doar Hayom, 21 Teves 1936:

In the city of Sventzian, a suburb of Vilna which was always important in the rabbinic world of Lithuania--Russia, there could always be found great rabbinic scholars, Rabbi Y. Y. Reines, of blessed memory, and Rabbi Pinkhas Rozovsky, of blessed memory, and Rabbi Moshe Avigdor Amiel, whom it welcomed in his first rabbinic position (1905).

The fact that the young rabbi of only 22 was selected to such an important position made, at that time, a great impression on the rabbinic world.

In Sventzian, he founded a large yeshiva in which more than 100 bright students studied under him.

While in Sventzian, he took a test in secular studies and received his license to be an official government rabbi.

In 1907, he was called by Baron Ginsburg to be a candidate for the office of Chief Rabbi of Petersburg. This was before Rabbi Dovid Katzenelboygen, of blessed memory, was selected, but there was opposition to him [Rabbi Amiel] because of his young age. Then Baron Ginsburg said: “Rabbi Amiel has the kind of fault that I myself would wish to have.”

Rabbi Amiel participated in all the world meetings and conferences of the Mizrakhi Movement that took place after the war [WWI] and was among the keynote speakers in all the conferences. His speech at the last Lucerne Congress also made a strong impression, and even many of the non-Jewish newspapers of Switzerland lauded and praised him. Rabbi Amiel spoke a fluent and rich Hebrew, but he is also comfortable in the following languages: English, French, German, Russian, and Polish.

* * *

HaYesod, the 18th of Shvat 1936


Rabbi Kh. F. Tkhursh

Our Rabbi – the New Chief Rabbi of Tel-Aviv

The city of Tel Aviv is happy and excited about the coming of its new rabbi and teacher. A festive reception was held, sponsored by the representatives of the community, the mayor's office, public institutions, great rabbis, and community leaders. This showed how great is the admiration of a variety of people in Tel Aviv for this important man: His reputation spread in the Jewish world at large during the course of several decades, in institutions of Torah and morality, in institutions of [secular] learning, in our community organizations in Israel, and in the Diaspora.

His devotion to yeshivas, the teaching of Torah to young children and yeshiva boys;

Traveling to publicize the redemption of Israel through the spirit of Torah;

Active dedication to erecting quality institutions to benefit our people and our country;

Communal Hebrew activities—these are the golden pages of this spiritual person:

Rabbi Moshe Avigdor Amiel, may he live a good, long life.

He came a great distance from the city of Svinstyan in Poland to the city of Tel Aviv. Svinstyan is a symbol. The famous Rabbi Reines of blessed memory developed the idea of continuity in the Mizrakhi Movement. From this grew the person who promulgated the teachings of Rabbi Reines and then became the famous rabbi in this miraculous Hebrew city.

The first rabbi of Svinstyan developed the great idea.

The second stood as a leader to those who carried out the concept. And it was an honor that he truly had earned – this man who encompassed in his soul the burning flame of Zion and was totally devoted to action, this man who stood at the forefront of the rebuilding of the nation. He is the most suitable to stand and supervise the complete redemption as it is expressed in the motto: “The Land of Israel for the people of Israel according to the Torah of Israel!”

This is not the place to go into all of the details of the glorious, glowing personality of this multi-faceted beautiful human being. Suffice it to say that the great rabbi and scholar, Rabbi Amiel, is known as one of the greatest rabbis in the world and is one of the most talented rabbis of this generation. He has earned himself a wonderful and glorious reputation in the world of Torah scholarship, and he is held in high esteem both by the Mizrakhi and the Aguda as well as by the Jewish community in general.

He came from the city of Svinstyan in Poland to the city of Tel Aviv. [He came] from the city in which Rabbi Reynes, of blessed memory, was teaching about and promulgating the ideas of the Mizrachi, a return to Zion and the building of the nation on its own land according to Torah and its commentaries.

The New Beit Hamidrash That Housed Rabbi Amiel's Yeshiva


  1. A verst is a Russian land measurement equal to 2/3 of a mile. Trans. Back
  2. The meaning of this word is unclear. Trans. Back
  3. Gaon means great Torah scholar. Trans. Back
  4. A European institution roughly equivalent to high school and two years of college. Trans. Back
  5. Those who praise. Trans. Back
  6. There is a slight difference in prestige between the Hebrew words for “class” and “grade.” Trans. Back
  7. Those who condemn. Trans. Back
  8. Houses were built around courtyards. This means that Gabriella Skirmunt owned all the property and buildings in this area. Trans. Back
  9. A pood is 40 Russian pounds. Trans. Back
  10. This acronym stands for Torah (here in its limited sense of the five books of Moses), N'veim (Prophets), Ksuvim (Writings-Hagiographa). Trans. Back
  11. This means that secular subjects should not be excluded from the education of religious people. Trans. Back
  12. This means that this was a leap year and they had two Adars. Trans. Back
  13. The main objective of the Jewish National Fund was to buy land from the Arabs in order to build more settlements in Israel. Trans.
  14. A land measurement used in Palestine and Israel equal to .22 acre. Trans. Back
  15. The First Immigration was between 1882 and 1904. A.H. Back


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