Translated by Khane-Faygl (Anita)Turtletaub
The Sabbath, The Holidays and The Middle of the Week
In Sventzian, the preparations for the Sabbath began as early as Wednesday. Very early in the morning when the first village peasants arrived at the marketplace with their wagons full of produce, they already found the women [of the town] waiting for them hoping to get a bargain, a fat chicken for the Sabbath, a duck, a goose with a lump of fat under its wing, because without some fat the tsimes was tasteless, and without a fatty tsholent and a fatty kugl the Sabbath was not a [traditional] Sabbath. And on the Sabbath one could not even think of not having meat. There must also be cooked beans just to munch on.
Fruit, Vegetables, potatoes, carrots, butter, sour cream, cheese and other small items that were needed for the rest of the weekall of these were bought at the Wednesday market.
After the market was over, volunteers (for the most part neighbors of those in need) went out to gather money for the needy: a member of the community who had fallen on hard times and could use an anonymous donation, or a tradesman, who had little work and many children. This was so that these Jewish families could enjoy a nice Sabbath as well.
The constant beggars of the town went from house to house on Thurdays and hastely collected some money in order to be able to prepare for the Sabbath, because the alms that they received throughout the week from the [various charitable organizations] Help for the Fallen, Food for the Poor, Guardians of the Sick and so on were just to get them through the week with nothing extra for the Sabbath.
Because of all this, the groceries and the butcher shops were very crowded on Thursdays, as was Moyshe-Mendl's the shoykhet who worked until late at night slaughtering the fowl.
On Thursday the municipal bathhouse in the synagogue courtyard was also crowded as was the khasidish bathhouse on Vilna Street. Everyone was in a hurry so that that they would have more time the next day, Friday, to complete their preparations.
Friday at dawn, while everyone in the house is still sleeping, the housewives get up and light the baking ovens, prepare the wheat dough and bake the braided khales [sometimes] with decorative pieces of dough on top, cakes with onions or poppy seeds, and most importantly, the dairy rolls, whose aromas waft out into the street hinting that the Sabbath is approaching.
On Friday the town is teeming with all kinds of fish (pike, perch, ____, _____, smelts) from the nearby lakes, which is being sold that day. The fish are still alive having been caught the night before. They become even livelier in Zalman's hands which have already begun to shake.
On Friday no one eats a normal lunch. Everything is being prepared for the festive Friday night meal and during the day one makes do with only a fresh roll or a piece of cake and milk, or a warm piece of fish with freshly ground horseradish that had been prepared for the Sabbath.
I remember how Rabbi Polonsky and his follower Rabbi Luski used to walk to the synagogue a half an hour before candlelighting. On their way, they used to take a stroll past the stores in the market square, so that the shopkeepers would know that it was time to close their stores.
Toward evening there were times in town when the whole world around it was quiet and everyone seemed to be listening for the approaching Sabbath. The most sacred moments were shared by those who heard their mothers saying the blessing over the candles as she held her hands over her face, and often a tear was seen to roll down.
How lovely it was to see the Jews leisurely strolling down the street to the synagogue on their way to welcoming the Sabbath by singing prayers in honor of the Sabbath Queen.
And afterward, how wonderful it was to sit with the whole family around the table prepared for the Sabbath, which was like an island floating over the whole workaday world, which was becoming more and more pervaded with sacred serenity.
From every house on these Friday nights one could hear the happy and poignant melodies of the special Sabbath evening songs. Then the younger generation would go out for walks and discuss real matters, current events, and make the circuit from the Greek Orthodox Temple to the end of Pilsudski Street, where the Jewish Synagogue was located: sometimes there and back.
Sometimes some of them would stop into the [various] party headquarters or reading rooms of the Bild-Gez. that was located on Pilsudski or into the building of the Culture School on Yatkover Street, which was the location of the Municipal Library, the reading room and all the Zionist organizations. Everywhere they hung around until late. Every place has its special attraction.
Early the next morning, the fathers and their children went to the synagogue. Some mothers also went to the women's section. The progressive part of town, sometimes the children of these same mothers and fathers, had other concerns and used the free time afforded by these Sabbath mornings
|The Judgment played by the dramatic group of the Bild-Gez.|
to attend meetings, discussions in the [party] headquarters about municipal and general political problems in the scope of party activities in the city and according to instructions from the central [office].
Everyone had his own duties: during the morning hours, the members of the dramatic groups rehearsed at the Bild-Gez. and the Zionist organizations were also trying to make the last minute preparations of the performance which was to be presented that very evening after the Sabbath ended to the Sventzian audience. Critics and lovers of good theater alike were getting ready to criticize the actors, [who were] their friends and acquaintances.
The town became quiet after lunch. Some of the people slept after the greasy tsholent and tried to make up for their [sleep] deficit of the whole week.
The young people did not sleep!
Many of them walked over to the lakes: Beresovke, Kakhanovke, Madzun or Farahukst in order to bathe, to swim, to fool around and otherwise happily pass the quiet hours of the Sabbath in the surrounding pine woods, where they sang new songs and continued eating the Sabbath meal, which they had brought with them.
There were also many on-lookers in the circular
park and at the sports stadium, where most of the soccer matches took place on Saturday afternoon, where the local teams played against the teams of other cities.
On Friday night, the Town Hall was always lit up. One of the previously mentioned drama groups would be performing there. In an organized way, the hall would be divided among the various interest groups, in keeping with the by-laws of the Town Hall commission. According to the statute, any organization could have use of the hall if it asked for it 14 days in advance. And it was first come first served for any given day.
There were also cases when two organizations wanted the hall on the very same day. This caused clashes. These various incidents and the complaints that followed did not, however, cause a rift in their peaceful coexistence in town. All artistic, literary and whatever other events were attended by all the interest groups, as long as the event was well-prepared, had appropriate content and was on a high artistic level.
During the course of a full year, according to set dates, there were: lecture series, concerts, parties, rummage sales, masquerade balls, and events whose goal it was to raise funds for the various branches of social [service] organizations in Sventzian.
This revenue covered a large part of the budgets of the philanthropic institutions, general undertakings, the upkeep of real estate [?], and the most important thingthe deficits of the cultural events in the schools of the city.
The holidays of the whole year, national or religious, had their traditional expressions and assured merit for one or the other societies.
Sukos was the holiday for religious Jews, who after the somber Days of Awe took off their shoulders the [serious] yoke of examining their souls: I have sinned, I have transgressed and Forgive us, and stood before G-d and people with clean souls. Huts [sukas] were built and an awful lot of eating went on in them. The esrogs were blessed; this gave the synagogue beadles a source of income, because they would carry the lulav throughout the whole
city, so that even the women and children could fulfill the mitsva of the four species. With the willows on Hoshana Raba, the holiday would end, and Jews felt assured that they had been 'sealed' for a good year.
On Shmini-Atseres and Simkhas Toyre, the Jews of Sventzian were happy and enjoyed themselves. In the synagogues, the Torah was carried around accompanied by singing and dancing. The synagogues were packed. The women came to see their husbands having a good time. The boys who had not yet been bar-mitzva took part in the hakofos and after the Ata hareysa prayer, they shouted: Holy lambs accompanied by a drawn out Meh, meh, meh. After the hakofos everyone [sic] drank whiskey and ate honey cake, which the beadles of the synagogue prepared for the congregants.
Simkhas Toyre was celebrated most joyously in Khasidic congregations with Khasidic ecstasy, [by singing] Khasidic melodies while they were very drunk from the rich food: the whiskey, herring and honey cake that had been placed on each table.
At every table the 'guys' made a toast on the 10th of Kislev, the 15th of Kislev and the 19th of Kislev in honor of the founder of the Chabad Movement, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Ladi's being released from prison.
The 19th of Kislev was also the day [to honor] the Burial Society. The annual gathering took place [also] at prepared tables, which held whiskey and a festive meal. The beadle gave a report on the year's activities, the state of the treasury and on-going matters. And if it were necessarya new beadle would be chosen and the various duties of preparing the dead body would be meted out, according to the merits of the members during the past year.
For the pupils in the schools, Khanike symbolized the heroism of the Macabbees, Jewish heroes. There were enactments of chapters of history and plays. For the adults [there were plays] in the Town Hall.
The legendary cruse of oil, the Hasmoneans and [the phrase] A great miracle happened here were symbolized by the Khanike candles. Folk songs raised morale and brought the heroic spirit of Khanike alive for the school children.
There were evenings of entertainment with amateur and professional performances, recitations, monologues, orchestras and dancing, [events] which all the young people in town attended.
The organization Culture, would use that week to hold a Khanike bazaar. The items [for sale] were donated by friends and those sympathetic [to the goals of the organization]. The managers of the school and especially the women's committee were very active in this [project]. In addition to this activity, there was also a Khanike Ball with potato pancakes for the friends of the Zionist organizations, the patrons of the school.
The miracle of Khanike was also a miracle for the school; it helped provide the support necessary for its financial survival.
The 19th of Shvat, the New Year for trees belonged to The Jewish National Fund, according to the yearly plan. The committee [of The Jewish National Fund] together with the representatives of the Zionist Parties took part in this celebration; they announced new donors, disseminated the white and blue [charity] boxes and organized a Flower Day for the town. On this day, even Christians threw donations into the boxes and got a flower put into their buttonhole or [received] a Jewish National Fund stamp.
Of the esteemed Christian donors, one cannot forget to mention Matushevitsh, the pharmacist, and Gramov. The latter was a partner in the Jewish company, Zalaletshnyitse, and together with Reuben Abramovitsh, his Jewish partner, donated to The Jewish National Fund annually.
The Culture School used to explain to its students the role of The Jewish National Fund: its goals, its work in the settlements outside the land of Israel, settling the wilderness, and the blooming of the trees there at a time when it is winter is in full blast here. The Parents' Committee would give out candies to the students as well as the fruits of Israel, especially St. John's bread, and it was said that there, in our land, the goats were fed St. John's bread.
Purim: It seems that wartime conditions prevailed in our time. Shooting could be heard on all the streets; some children had [toy] guns in their hands, some had rifles. The smaller children ran around with noisemakers. The air around the synagogue smelled of gun powder. The megila was read, and when Haman was mentioned, the men pounded on their lecterns. Pranksters [made noise] with keys, and sulfphur, gathered from matches, exploded with a bang, [and it sounded] just like an execution.
For the most part, however, people were more pragmatic and were busy
with the traditional Masquerade Ball that was held to benefit the organization-- mashmeres khoylim-- which helped the sick in the city and [prepared] shalkh mones, which had been previously ordered according to what was needed for the buffet, and that depended on the visitors and the Ball participants. Gifts of food were also provided for the [various] lotteries that were held during the course of this entertaining evening and were sent annually to the special Women's Committee, which consisted of community activists of all kinds.
The traditional Purim Ball to benefit the mashmeres khoylim was always held in the building of the Jewish school. Most of the participants came wearing masks. A valuable gift was given for the prettiest and most original mask. The rooms were decorated in a Turkish style; music was provided by the Jewish Brass Band [and?] Levin's String Orchestra, which entertained people until dawn. Selections were read and monologues recited; [these were] actual megilas, newly written every year.
Passover: Food for the poor, free matzos so that the indigent should not, G-d forbid, be tempted to eat khomets. Everyone took part in this effort. At the head was always the head of the Jewish judicial court, the Rabbi.
I still remember the war years 1915-19, when there was a shortage of white flour and flour had to be rationed; everyone received the same amount. It was permitted to each chickpeas and beans. Potato dumplings took the place of matzo balls.
During the years 1920-1922, the third division of the liberating Polish Army was stationed in the area of Sventzian; this included about 100 Jewish soldiers. The Jewish community in Sventzian arranged a communal seder for them with all the trimmings: Hagadas, the four questions, four cups of wine. This was done with the help of special committee of community activists: Yoysef and Basha Svirski, Shmuel Margolis, Pesha Gurvitsh, Khave Lulinski among others, who along with the soldiers were memorialized in the picture [on the foloowing page].
The Jewish soldiers, who were separated from their families, felt at home among the Jews of Sventzian. Some of the soldiers even struck up friendships with some of the local young ladies, later married them and settled in town; some of them were: Hirshl Fridman, Leyb Margolin, and Henekh Rozenes. There were also some who took their wives back to their hometowns.
Around Passover, the elementary school organized a Spring Ball. In addition to dancing and having a good time, the older students
The organizing committee stands on the porch. It consists of: Yoysef and Basha Svirski, Rokhl Kohn, Khava Lulinski, Khane Musin, Pesha Gurvitsh, Shmuel Margolit, Dina Kats, Yoysef Lulinski.
To the right stands Hersh Fridman as a soldier
the graduate circle also prepared a suitable program. The ball was always successful in the broadest circles of the city.
In the year 1934, the 15th anniversary of the founding of the school was celebrated on Passover.
The ball was opened with special speeches. There were greetings from all the societies, graduates and pupils, guests from the region and the [city] center, from Vilna and Warsaw.
The celebration started with a mass movement into town of the Bild-Gez wind orchestra playing Bin.
In the Culture School there was [always] a rummage sale during Passover. The supporters had special Passover prizes. This event was accompanied by fun attractions performed by the youth organizations of the Hebrew speaking Zionist camp.
Lag B'Omer 
Lag B'Omer. The schools and the youth organizations go for walks in the woods or in the hills around the city. There everyone spent the whole day. [There were also] organized sports meets. Every year the teachers and instructors explained the historical significance of the holiday, the importance of the historical figures: Rabbi Shimon Bar-Yokhai, Rabbi Akiva ben Yoysef and their students, the various legends that grew up around themtheir being underground in the hills, struggling for freedom, their dying as martyrs for the sanctification of G-d's name. All of this made an impression on the youth of Sventzian.
This [nature] visit would end with a bonfire at a historical point that was left in the woods as a memorial in the hills at the Strunoyitse Street arches [?]. At the
time of the Tatar invasion, before they occupied the city of Sventzian, there was an observation point there. The festivities were concluded with the dancing of a hora, and the sounds of the orchestra accompanied everyone back to town.
Shevuos: The holidays end with the giving of the Torah, because as long as one is free, one can do what one wants! Once you accepted the Torah, you accepted the obligation to heed its laws and you must obey everything that is written in it. That is what I once heard an itinerant preacher say in a sermon.
Shevuos brought the young people into the season of summer with its special properties. The schools freed their students for vacations. The youth organizations prepared for summer camps. One could now go swimming. The woods were green and full of wild berries.
The sports season was in full swing. The Pioneers and the The Young Pioneers prepared collective colonies in the villages, woods and by the lakes.
The schools organized summer colonies for the students, so that they could gather strength for the new school year and continue to learn Torah.
Translated by Khane-Faygl (Anita) Turtletaub
Jews could already be seen at dawn; they were going to pray in the old and the new synagogues and in the Tailors' Synagogue.
Wagon drivers, boat builders, artisans and other hard working Jews, who were not used to sleeping late during the rest of the week, would also get up at dawn on the Sabbath and go to synagogue.
Little by little Jews from other circles would also begin to stream [into the streets]. In our time, everyone attended synagogue. For the most part, they did not want to embarrass their parents and cause them grief. Many went out of habit or just to hear the wonderful singing of Cantor Abramovitsh.
During the Torah reading, people used to walk outside to chat about politics or just to talk about community or private matters.
After the service, people took their time going home and greeted the whole family with a broad, Gut Shabes.
At home everything was festive. The snow-white tablecloth, the small white cloth that covered the Sabbath loaves, the decanter of wine and the gobletseverything was prepared to honor the holy Sabbath.
After the blessing over the wine, people would run with dishcloths in their hands to bring back the tsholent from Shtirl, Kalmen's wife, who lived in the synagogue courtyard.
Kalmen himself was a short, healthy Jew, with shiny red cheeks. It was obvious that he did not earn a lot of money, because otherwise his wife would not need to bake bagels, khales, or keep the tsholent [overnight] for all the neighbors and acquaintances.
One had to be careful when retrieving one's tsholent, so that one did not, G-d forbid, make a mistake and take someone else's tsholent. This was also an opportunity for the women to chat with one another and to hear the town news.
At that time, Kalmen would sit in a side room.
When the women would talk too much, he was not too embarrassed to quite simply remind them:
No one will get full from your gossiping. When will we live to see the fatty, Sabbath tsholent?
Then they would finally disperse.
After the tsholent, everyone would take a fine Sabbath-afternoon nap. At dusk, they ate the third meal of the Sabbath with a good appetite, and finally they saw the Sabbath out with a quick recitation of the evening prayers, the saying of havdala, and the heartfelt singing of songs meant to accompany the Sabbath on its way.
The Synagogue Courtyard
Practically all of Jewish religious life in Sventzian was concentrated in the synagogue courtyard. The study halls were there. This was where the itinerant rabbis would preach their sermons, where the Jews used to sit and study Torah between the afternoon and evening services, and talk about everything and everyone. That is also where all the weddings used to take place.
The old synagogue, the smaller one, the new synagogue and the Tailor's Synagogue were located in the synagogue courtyard.
Along the narrow streets around the synagogue courtyard stood small, bent little houses, where are the impoverished artisans lived. For us children, those cramped streets were like Paradise. There we were far away from our rabbi's strictness and from the watchful eyes of our parents. There were no gentile ruffians there and that is why we could fool around and play pranks as much as we wanted.
A big attraction for us boys was also the little river that flowed past the baths, where we splashed around a whole summer or rowed boats. In the winter, when the river was frozen, we would ice skate and throw snowballs.
We felt especially felt good on Friday afternoons
when everyone was rushing and wanted to finish his work quickly to go to the [communal] baths. No one was paying any attention to us then. We felt free as birds and our screams reached the heavens.
The end to our freedom came soon enough, when Reb Zuse, the trustee of the Tailors' Synagogue, showed up.
He was a Jew with a long red beard and a good-hearted smile. All week long he traveled through the villages and only came home on Friday evening.
The first thing he did was run to the bathhouse and from there to the synagogue to help the beadle make all the [necessary] preparations for the Sabbath.
Reb Zuse never yelled at us. He would merely remind us that it was time to go home. And then all of us actually began to run home. At home we washed up a bit, donned our Sabbath clothes and went to the synagogue to pray.
We attended the service at the new synagogue. Since my father traveled around a lot for business, he sometimes did not even come home for the Sabbath. At those times I was supervised by my teachers: at first by Rabbi Moyshe Binyomin and later Rabbi Peysakh.
Rabbi Moyshe Binyomin led the prayers [for the congregation]. I used to take advantage of this opportunity, and as soon as he got behind
the podium, I would immediately slip out of that synagogue and nip into the old synagogue, where Cantor Abramovitsh and the choir were leading the prayers.
In addition to the Cantor's prayers, I was also going to see the Cantor's son, who was a good friend of mine. I would stand with him and enraptured listen to the prayers of the Cantor and his choir singers. The beadle would often come up to me and twist my ear, reminding me that this was not my place.
Then I would leave the Old Synagogue and go to the Tailors' Synagogue, which also greatly attracted me. There I felt quite at home and comfortable. There true democracy ruled. There the eastern wall was not occupied by any rabbi or ritual slaughterer. Their spiritual leader there was Yankev Dovid, the kheyder teacher, who on Saturday afternoons would have a class in Ethics of Our Fathers for the community members and between the afternoon and evening prayers would lead them in reciting psalms.
Right at the entrance of the synagogue stood a tin oven around which all the artisans gathered and hold heated discussion among themselves, especially about political matters.
Even though we prayed at the New Synagogue and that is where we had our permanent place, my best memories are nevertheless connected to the Tailors' Synagoue.
There, in the synagogue of those hard working Jews, I became imbued with a truly democratic feeling and a love for freedom and folkways.
When the first rays of the sun began to shine, the town shepherd would take the cattle and lead them far away to a field.
A little later, shopkeepers, businessmen and artisans appeared on the streets hurrying to the synagogue, to say their prayers quickly and go open their stores and workshops to prepare for the market [day].
At the same time, peasants with heavy-laden wagons were already heading for the market. The first Jew who showed up at the market was Yudl, the shoemaker, who had brought a small wagon with stuffed boots.
After him Lipe, the miller, came with a wagon of wooden wheels [to sell], and Leah with her little bottles who sold kvass and Shloyme Hirshke, the carpenter, with a wagon full of tables, cabinets and chairs.
The fish market very soon became livelyto an unimaginable extent. Dovid, the innkeeper, and Hirshe Note, the wedding jester, would buy up the best fish and quickly return home.
Slowly, one after the other, the shopkeepers opened their shops. The Itshe Shneyer Kavarski would show up, with a black [walking] stick, befitting a wealthy man, in one hand and a bunch of keys in the other.
Every hour, the noise got louder and louder: from the people and the cows, the pigs and the calves, from the goats and the chickens. Everything was moving around and shrieking.
In the middle of the marketplace, where the
pump and the trough were, the peasants, who had come to water their horses, were always jostling one another.
The biggest deals were made on Lintupe Street where the restaurants and the liquor stores were. There the drunken peasants were literally lying in the gutters.
Not far from the church, fruit carts were displaying all kinds of fruits: apples, pears, plums, cherries and various kinds of berries.
There was always a big tumult at the horse market. Five or six peasants sat themselves down in a small wagon to which a pony was hitched. The horse dealer whipped the pony mercilessly up a hill to show the [prospective] customers what strength the small horse had.
The biggest merchant was Hirshe from Margumishk [?] and his sons.
Abraham Oyzer, the old and blind wagon driver, was a special type at the horse market. At one time, he thought of himself as one of the most important wagon drivers in the city.
When the whistler appeared (that is
what he called the train), he was dethroned. Over the years he became old and weak and, in addition, lost his sight.
He had to sell his horse and was no longer a wagon driver.
The horse traders still asked for his expert opinion and would ask his advice about the appropriate cure when a horse took ill.
The hours passed. In the evening the market place began to empty out. The peasants went theor separate ways. Every once in a while one could see the peasant's wife driving the wagon and her drunken husband snoring in the back.
The shops too slowly emptied out. The merchants who had come to the market packed up their wares and began to go home. Those who lived far away rode to the inn. There it was lively until late at night.
When it was completely dark, several policemen would appear in the streets riding on lovely, rested horses, and that was the official announcement that the market had closed.
And once again peace and order reigned in town.
My Aunt Rashke lives in a small, poor house outside the town with her husband, an old Jew with a limp, who works as a night watchman for Moyshe Ber. In that house poverty and hunger reigned. I often visit my two aunts, two old girls [sic], who live in a house they inherited from their grandfather. They only live in half the house. Uncle Isaac lives in the other half of the house. Very often I pop in to see my Uncle Isaac. His wife, my Aunt Tsivia, often feeds my potatoes and herring. I often also visit my father's cousin, Perets Okun, who owns an inn on Lintuper Street. There I eat somewhat better.
To Moscow To Visit my Sister
I spent three months that way. I had already familiarized myself with all the streets and side streets of Sventzian as well as with practically all its residents.
It turns out that Sventzian is quite a small city: Jews, Poles, Russians, Tatars and Lithuanians get along quite well amongst themselves. Each one knows what is going on with everyone else. I am very lonely. I have nothing to occupy my time.
Once my Aunt Rashke woke me up with a shout: Shimele, get up. Your father has come!
My Aunt was right. That day my father had come to Sventzian. He had, however, gone to Aunt Taybe's and was waiting for me there.
I went there. My father looks very much like my Uncle Moyshe-Ber. [He was] a dark-haired man with a short, sparse, curly beard: a middle-aged person. He said that he already knew everything about methat I had been brought over from Odessa with the prisoners, that I was not religious, and that I had not even brought a pair of phylacteries with me.
Father, why don't you rather think about the fact that I do not even have a shirt upon my back or shoes on my feet.
My father was upset and began to shout: You treyfenik you. How do you dare to speak to your father this way?
It is understandable that I also became enraged and again responded angrily. It is all your fault. You threw us away, me and my sister, when we were still very little children and did not want to know anything about us this whole time.
My Aunt Rokhl-Leah interrupted and said to my father: Vigdor, You have to take the boy away from here. All of Sventzian is talking about him.
The upshot was that my father decided to settle in Sventzian and have me live with him.
He and my Uncle Okun opened a secret tobacco factory. Business was going well. My father apprenticed me to a jeweler to learn a trade. His young wife was very nice to me.
All of this, however, did not last long. Someone reported father [to the government]. An inspector came down from Vilna and closed the little factory.
My father was forced to run away from Sventzian and his young wife went with him. I once again remained all alone.
A short while later, I received a letter from my sister, Baske, who lived in Moscow, suggesting that I come to her.
After consulting with my relatives for a long time, I decide to leave Svantsyan and travel to Moscow.
With that my short association with the Jews of Sventzian came to an end.
Meir Zev Blumberg (New York)
Translated by Anita Frishman Gabbay
In 1913 I left Sventzian for America. I only have fond memories of my life in this shtetl, which I still remember after so many years.
In those years, Sventzian, was already known as an important Jewish community with wellknown Rabbis throughout the Jewish world. Rabbi Reines was one of these important personalities, as well as Rabbi Rosofski and Rabbi Amiel, all from our shtetl.
As I remember, there were 2 great synagogues, 2 Chasidic Miniamin and the Tailor's Kloiz (small prayer room). Furthermore, all our Jewish traditions of Torah Study and the ways we lived, became the foundation of our Jewish heritage and National pride.
In my days, life was deeply rooted in the building of the old synagogue, led by the Head Gabbai, Rabbi Leib Minkin and the Shamashim were Rabbi Israel Oli and his son Katzkel. The Torah reader was Rabbi Yitzhak the bookbinder.
In the new synagogue, the gabbai was Rabbi Ishaia the Torah reader was Rabbi IsraelGershon and the Shamash was ItzeBer.
In the Tailor's Kloiz, Kopl the tailor was the Gabbai, Bentze was the Shamash, and Yacov Dovid the Melamud, was the Rabbi.
In the large Hasidic Minian, Meir Levinson was the Gabbai, BenZion the teacher was the Torah reader and Leizer was, the Shamash. In other miniamin, Yidel, the baker was a Gabbai,the BenZion the painter was the Torah reader, Moishe the gardener, the Gabbai and Rabbi Leizer Bentes, a Rabbi.
In Sventzian there was also a club for friends, everyday we learned a page from the Gemara. Our shtetl excelled in academia.
These were known: Itzhak the teacher and Rabbi Leizer Bentzes. In the Chevra Kadisha (burial society) , those active were: Moishe Rabinovitch, Rabbi Leib Minkin, Leizer Bentzes, Boruch Siroka, Abraham Moishe, Berl the Baker, Israel Gershon, Belal Rabinovitch, and Leizer the Shamash.
I was also a friend of the Chevra Kadisha and until this day, I remember the funeral of Rabbi Rozofski. They asked everyone, including me, to leave the Tahara,Rabbi Minkin noticed this and requested that I should remain.
At the Chevra Kadisha there was a great celebration every T'L Kislev, and many thanks and blessings were performed.
The other societies that should be mentioned are Friends of Tehilim, Bikur Cholim, Bread for the Needy and others.
The elderly Jews were dedicated to these relief societies and were deeply rooted in their work and devotion. Those also to be remembered were the shochets, the Torah readers and the Hazanim. One well known Hazan was Abramovitch. The first day of the holidays he would pray at the old synagogue and the second, at the new synagogue. This made everyone happy. After davening(praying) the Kiddush was at Rabbi Leib Minkin's house. We would make, a L'Chaim(to Life) and would go crazy with our singing and dancing.
In the end, I find myself remembering my dear parents, my grandfather Hilel Dovid Br' Abraham Z', and my grandmother the righteous woman, Mera Rochel Yente and my entire family who were beloved in Sventzian, for their warm and open Jewish hearts.
May they all rest in peace.
by Israel Siroka (New York)
Translated by Anita Frishman Gabbay
60 years ago a great fire broke out in Sventzian, and most of the houses went up in smoke.
The community was made up of different folks: the Hasidim believed this was a punishment from God, after which Rabbi Reines left the shtetl for another position in another shtetl.
Others had opposite reasons: this was a way to improve the economic situation of the shtetl.
The fire broke out at night. The homes were so closely packed. People ran out into the streets with only their nightshirts, naked and barefoot. Some managed to gather a few possessions. All that they had worked so hard for, went up in smoke in 1 night.
The entire shtetl burned: the panic and disarray was so great, mothers and fathers looking for their children, they forgot to put out the fire.
They remembered, that nearby the shtetl there were
abandoned buildings, and in no time they made their way and settled in, everyone with a roof over their heads, and then the necessities were organized.
Just like the speed of light, the news of the terrible fire spread throughout the region, and wagons full of goods and produce started to arrive.
The next morning some folk returned to the burnt shtetl in order to retrieve and dig out some of their belonging, but little remained.
With great difficulty we had to leave our shtetl. The elders were devising a plan to rebuild.
With great difficulty, they managed to put together shops(stalls) with old planks of wood, in order to resume their small trade in bartering. Shopkeepers came. With loans, goods were purchased and in this way, slowly, the money made was saved to start the rebuilding of the shtetl. Renewal of both religious and secular life began. They folk started to look for a place to pray.
The largest group were the Mignadim, and despite all, they still decided to remain in the shtetl with the Hasidic miniamin, one minian on Vidzer Street, the other at Zelman Skots(probably in his house) on Katznitzeister Street.
The Mignadim decided not to pray in the Hasidic miniamin, so money was being collected to build a new synagogue.
The gabbai, Rabbi Bere-Itze Katz, was put in charge and he said that Sventzian, being such an important shtetl, needed to build a grandiose new synagogue. Those opposed to this plan decided to build a second synagogue, where the Rabbi would be, Rabbi Moishe Abes.
With these two sides of opposition, the two synagogues were the result. Competition was fierce. So the building process took several years, and we had to pray where we found a place.
In this manner, the Tailor's synagogue was founded: the tailors were unhappy with the situation, their work suffered, so they took matters in their own hands.
Kopl the tailor was now the chosen gabbai for the Tailors Kloiz.
As the folk had many issues amongst themselves, the tailors Kloiz had less restrictions and thus was able to build and start functioning much sooner, and eventually became famous in the other surrounding shtetls.
Soon, the other 2 synagogues were built. The gabbai and leader was Rabbi Itze Ber Bak,
And all the important folk prayed there: Rabbi Asher Kovarski and others.
The Rabbi was Rabbi Pinchas Rasofski.
In the new synagogue the folk that prayed here were the more religious and the educated. It is true, that in these times, everyone was religious. But, still, there were those that were very Orthodox and those who were less.
Two highly educated lived there: Dr. Broida and the teacher, Zhitomirski, who taught singing in the Kazianer school (secular).
Zhitomirski came into our synagogue only once a year, when we gave praise to the Czarist regime, he joined all the folk. He didn't put on a Tallis (prayer shawl) only a silk short scarf, that had the Tzizeson each side.
In the new synagogue, from Mincha to Ma'Ariv, we gave a lectures and many folk from the other synagogues came here to study. Afterwards, they left to pray MaAriv in the old synagogue. This is the way in which they conducted themselves between the 2 synagogues.
An interesting person prayed in the old synagogue: Yoske Michel Beinus. It was told, that he didn't leave the synagogue until all his Tehilim were finished, and everyday he recited it over again.
Another wonderful person in the old synagogue was the Rabbi Izak, also the gabbai from Bread for the Needy.
This is all that I remember from the days before the great fire, and before World War 1, in which Sventzian rebuilt and became once again a beautiful shtetl in the Vilna province. I had then immigrated overseas to America.
My whole life I still remember the shtetl with love and fondness.
A. S. Swirski
Translated by Anita Frishman Gabbay
On a cold September day, I left the Vilna community and was met by a guardian who brought me to the train terminal. Two hours later we arrived in New Sventzian by train and met again, to be transferred to another greeter, saying: send him to the direction of Sventzian.
As there were no wagons, we both left on foot to Sventzian. We walked quite a distance when we came across a Jew with one eye, driving a wagon with 2 shiny horses. He stopped and we asked him to bring us to Sventzian. Eliahu was his name: he thought awhile and then he accepted. In detail he asks me who I was and I answer: I am Avigdor Svirski's son, and I was returning home to him, where I was born.
Vigdor's son?wonders Eliahu, he doesn't live here anymore. After the death of his first wife, he married a young girl and moved to Braslav.
This is how I learned that my mother died and my father was no longer in Sventzian.
When we arrived in Sventzian, our driver stopped in the market square, in the center of the town, and left us there. We crossed over Lintuper Street and arrived at city hall.
The official was dressed in a coat with shiny buttons, examined my papers and asked if I had any relatives in Sventzian.
I don't knowI quietly answered, the proprietor then asks my companion, to which Svirski relation can we send this boy?. He answers, the richest one is MoisheBer Svirski, and surely he would receive this lost soul.
They discussed in a lengthy manner and decided to send for MoisheBer(Svirski). Half an hour later, a middleaged gentleman arrives, with a black beard, and declares that he is my father's brother. It didn't take long, I left the police station in the company of my uncle, heading toward his home on Lintuper Street.
He lived in a large and beautiful home, surrounded by fields where he grew flax.
When I entered I was surrounded by aunts, uncles, cousins who were all so excited to see Vigdor's son, that with the guardian.
One of my aunts dropped her hands and cried: God bless! This is Shimele, Vigdor's heir!
The uncle Moishe Ber then asks the relativesSo, what shall we do with him?
We have to write to Vigdor at oncesaid one of the relativeshe should take him to his home.
Moishe Ber's wife, a middleaged woman, with dark and beautiful eyes, says: We can't allow him to leave in this manner, we have to clothe him first.
You don't like his clothingsays Moishe Ber, so take him to Vilna, to Weinstein's, and order some clothing for him.
Oy Moishe Ber, Oy, Moishe Bersays a poor relative wearing a black headscarf, You are a Saint, Moishe Ber!
I found out that this is my aunt Raske, my father's sister. My aunt Raske gets into an argument with my uncle and she takes me to her home.
My aunt Raske lives with her husband, an old and crippled man, who still works as a night watchman at Moishe Ber's. She lives in a small, poor house at the edge of town. The house reeks of hunger and poverty. I visited often my other aunts, 2 old maids, who lived in a house that they inherited from my grandfather. They lived in one half of the house, my uncle Izhak lived in the other half. His wife, aunt Zbiha, spoilt me with potatoes and herring, I also visited my uncle's cousin, Peretz Okun, who had a sweet shop on Lintuper street. I ate much better at his place.
To Moscow To My Sister
Three months passed this way. I became familiar with all the streets and alleyways and all the residents. It seemed that Sventzian was rather a small shtetl. The residents: Jews, Polaks, Russians, Tatars and Lithuanians all lived together quite comfortably. Each one knows the others' business. It was quite sad and lonely, not knowing what to do with your days.
One time my aunt Raske, awakened me and yells: Shimele, get up! Your father is here! My aunt was right, my father had just arrived in Sventzian and he is at aunt Teiba's and is awaiting me there. I made my way to aunt Teiba, father is waiting and is very thankful to Moishe Ber for all that he has done for me. A dark Jew, with a thinning and curley beard, a middle aged man, he says: he already knows everything about me. I was brought up in the orphanage and brought here by the guardian and that I am not religious, and that I arrived here without any Tefillim.
I answered him: Father, think about this, I don't own a shirt on my back and shoes on my feet!
My father was insulted and started screaming: How dare you speak to your father like this?
Understandably, I got angry as well and answered him in the same angry manner: Father, you are to blame for everything. Together with my sister Baske, you threw us away, when we were very small children and you did not want anything to do with us.
The aunt, RocheLeah, mixed in and said to the father:
Vigdor, You must take this boy away from here. All of Sventzian is on his side.
In the end, my father decided to return to Sventzian and I was to live in his home. Together with my uncle Okun, they started a tobacco factory in his home. Business was very good. My father entrusted me to an apprentice so I can learn a profession. I got along quite well with his young wife. But this didn't last very long. Someone reported my father and a supervisor arrived from Vilna and shut down the factory(probably illegal or black market).
My father was forced to run away from Sventzian, together with his young wife. Again I am left alone.
A short while later I received a letter from my sister Baske, in Moscow, begging me to join her. A short while later I left for Moscow. In this way my relationship with the Sventianer Jews ended.
Translated by Khane-Faygl (Anita)Turtletaub
It is recorded in the town's chronicle that in 1765, there were already 462 Jewish souls living in Sventzian. The Jewish population increased greatly during the course of several hundred years and had grown to 2,900 souls by the year 1919. Right before the Second World War, the Jewish population had grown to just short of 3,500 souls.
The Jews of Sventzian were for the most part shopkeepers and artisans. They earned their living from the markets. The farmers of the whole region used to bring their agricultural produce to sell, and with the money they earned they used to buy a variety of things-- such as clothing and household articles--from the Jewish merchants.
The farmers and the dealers from the surrounding areas took part in the markets, like Ts. B. from New Sventzian, Lintup, Svir, Lingmyan, Stayatsishok, Heydutsishok, Vidzh, Koltenyan, Meligan and so on. All of them enlivened business in Sventzian.
The world of nature all around gave Sventzian the gift of beautiful pine forests, large lakes, long valleys and [broad] meadows through which the small Kuneh River meandered.
In my mind, I always compared Sventzian to a tree. The roots [and] the trunk were located in the center of town in the marketplace. From there [main] streets and side streets extended like the branches of a tree: these were New Sventzian Street, Vilner [St.], Yatkerver [St.], Lintuper [St.], Poshmener [St.], Vidzer [St.] and Kloyster Street. Together with the Synagogue Courtyard, this was a whole Jewish state.
Sventzian had a Yiddish elementary school with very devoted male and female teachers, such as Fisher, Musin, Goldshteyn and others.
In the year 1919, a pro[totype?] gymnazium was opened, which three years later had developed into a genuine school of eight grades. This was achieved thanks to the financial support of the Sventsyaners in America.
The founders of this gymnasium: Yoysef Brumberg, Binyomin Kavarski, Leyb Pomerants put everything they had into assuring its existence.
In the year 1926, the following were among its graduates: Kopl and Monish Siratko, Kreyne Ginsburg and the poet M. Natish (Mikahl Shutan), who died young.
Unfortunately, the gymnasium was closed in 1929 because of deception on the part of the ruling Polish administration.
During the long winter nights there were recitations and many cultural events. During the summer, people would cool off in the waters of the Zadvarnik, Berezovke, Kakhanovke Rivers, or they used to enjoy the fresh air of the Trak Woods.
A popular walk was to Tserklishok, to Kholetski's Palace. The young people would also go in that direction on Saturday to the sports arena, where football matches were held.
The Jews of Sventzian also had a people's bank, where one could get a loan without paying high interest rates, and two interest-free funds, These were supported by friends in America.
In 1936, the anti-Semitic Polish administration decided to confiscate the building that housed the Jewish People's Bank.
The Jewish community activists did not give up, and a year later they erected a building of their own, and in 1937 had an impressive building dedication ceremony.
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