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[Page 185]

Special Persons in Shumsk


[Pages 188-192]

Rabbi Beirinyo

by Rafael Sapir (Sefarim)

Translated by Sandy Bloom



Notes: Rabbi Beirinyo, as he was affectionately called, was born in 1867. His full name was Yisroel Dov Ber Lerner, and he was the eldest son of Rabbi Mordechai Lerner, who served as the rabbi of Shumsk and head of its religious court for over 35 years. In 1900 Rabbi Yisroel Dov/Beirinyo Lerner was appointed as a rabbi of Volochisk. With the death of his father in 1907 Rabbi Beirinyo was called back to Shumsk to serve as his father's successor. He died in the typhus epidemic of 1919.

“Shal naalecha,” Remove thy shoes in this holy site!

With awe and reverence I take upon myself the blessed task of describing the pure and holy Rabbi Beirinyo. As I approach this mission, I am filled with a strong sense of responsibility akin to a sofer stam (Jewish scribe who transcribes sacred religious writings). I am deeply distressed that I cannot narrate all his wonderful actions and include all the aspects of his illuminating figure because I knew him for only a short time. We were also divided by the different viewpoints and opinions we held. Thus I am forced to make do with isolated descriptions of his life, of which the crowning glory was: rescuing Jews from the goyim (non-Jews). His rescue actions were repeated over and over, with great self-sacrifice and without receiving any kind of compensation for his efforts.

Rabbi Beirinyo was a man of truth in all his actions, and completely fulfilled the mitzvah mentioned in the Shaharit prayers. “May a person always be Yerei Shamayim (God-fearing), in private and in public, and be a person of truth.” He viewed this as a command given to him personally.

[Ironically,] the first reception our family received from him was not pleasant at all. When World War I erupted we fled from our border town in fear of our oppressor, unable to take anything with us; we arrived in Shumsk penniless. We chose Shumsk because it was somewhat far from the front lines and we opened a Tarbut school there, Father z”l (may his memory be for a blessing) and myself. Then we were urgently summoned to the rabbi. As soon as we appeared, he fell upon us with harsh words, saying “I will pursue and persecute you to the ends of the Earth. I will not allow you to disseminate words of heresy through the Krinsky[1] books” (Harstomatya, which was used a lot in those days). The controversy between us was terrible; it was a matter of life or death to both sides.

Rabbi Beirinyo was, on the one hand, a very pious Jew who painstakingly observed all the mitzvot and faithfully tended to his congregation like the shepherd tends to his flock, lest they be tempted to abandon Torah Judaism. While he was entirely a man of mercy and lovingkindness, he brooked no compromises [in religious matters] and would fight bitterly, taking vengeance like a snake, as befits a talmid chacham (a learned scholar). Then, on the other hand, there was us: a large family that escaped from its town on the front lines by the skin of its teeth, leaving everything behind and lacking all basic necessities. Our profession was teaching the Hebrew language; our livelihood and existence depended on being involved in a local school. Just as Rabbi Beirinyo was adamant and resolute about his beliefs, so the founders [of the Tarbut schools] were adamant about their lofty goal of disseminating Hebrew culture. Clearly there were many obstacles and mishaps but despite it all, a [Tarbut] school was opened in Shumsk and continued to exist.

Eventually, Rabbi Beirinyo actually perused Krinsky's books and came to the realization that it wasn't as terrible as he had thought. This study-text quoted sayings of the Sages, texts from the Talmud, and sections from other holy writings. When he saw this, he did not hesitate to change his mind. Eventually he even set aside part of his large house house for the school. Meanwhile the school grew and as a result, it moved from the rabbi's home to other places; the number of pupils kept increasing, and eventually there was no appropriate structure to house everyone.

The rabbi viewed justice and righteousness as one of the pillars of existence of the Jewish people in the Diaspora, and he dealt with it at all times. But his real nobility emerged during the First World War[2]. The front lines demanded more and more victims, but Jewish youths had no interest in sacrificing themselves to protect the horrific government of [the Russian Czar] Nicholas II. Therefore, they shirked their army duty to the best of their ability.

At that point, Rabbi Berinyo opened his doors to all the draft-dodgers but mainly to those from poor families, whose housing conditions did not allow for creating proper hiding places. Thus draft dodgers came from far and wide to hide in the rabbi's secret shelter.

This became known to too many people throughout Russia: that somewhere, out in a far-flung town, was a mysterious and wonderful man. This man hid draft-dodgers in his home: he fed them, gave them what to drink, and put them up in his home – full board, without charging a penny.

Young men formed groups and came from nearby towns and far-flung places as well, places with names that were unfamiliar to us. When circumstances allowed, these youths (their numbers reached the dozens) filled the Beit Medrash (religious study hall) in the rabbi's large house, thus Torah study was upheld. The more learned ones delved into the gemarrah (Talmud). Those who were not expert in the Talmud read Tanach (the Bible) and chapters of Tehillim (Psalms). The rabbi actively encouraged them to learn Torah; he really believed that they would be delivered from the evil [Russian] monarchy, by virtue of their Torah study.

The number of young fellows rose from day to day, and eventually the house became too small to contain them. The rabbi lost control over events, and was not master of his own home. When he would try to turn someone away for lack of room, he would do this weakly. There were those who did not listen and simply moved in, and the rabbi was forced to accept the fait accompli. After all, how could he expel a fellow Jew who had risked his life to make the trip? Thus the number of “Beit Medrash youths” rose from day to day while the rabbi took care of their security and their food. It is a secret to this very day, how the rabbi secured the enormous means to provide for his “sons,” as he called them; he was actually childless.

We can guess that most of the money was contributed by the townspeople. Even in regular times, the local Jews would send him “pidyonot” (donations in exchange for personal requests) and gifts. He received only a minuscule salary as rabbi, which never covered the costs of running the house in which he hosted guests his entire life.

In quiet, “regular” times the rabbi's Beit Medrash and several private rooms housed the “sons” – most of whom were not local people. Each of them would return to their home, after the search ended. However, this was not the case during periods of real panic and fear. When rumors were heard that the “flying company” was going to conduct searches, by surprise of course, all the “usual” draft-dodgers, including local fellows, would go down to the basement. But in the town were also draft-dodgers who were not of the Jewish faith, and they knew exactly what was going on in the rabbi's home. It happened that one of these said to himself, When the regiment comes, I'll “acquire” a beard and peyos (sidecurls), I'll sit in the rabbi's house and study the holy books –– “tatli, mamli.” (He was an expert at imitating the tune of studying gemarrah.) However, things didn't get that bad and he evidently found a more appropriate, safer place to hide than the rabbi's basement.

And this is the story of the basement:

Under the floor of the house was a large, spacious basement with a tiny window that barely let in some light. Entrance to this room was via a hole, barely the width of a person; the hole was covered by a small door that could be closed by hooks on the inside. It was difficult to discern this on the wooden floor. The draft-dodgers would descend into this basement when necessary, and often spent hours down there. The unwelcome guests would visit us from time to time. Sometimes things could be set right by under-the-table bribes. Other times, it would be heard that the unwelcome guests on their way were honest souls who could not be bribed, and panic and fear would grip the entire town. The town elders would then turn to the rabbi with entreaties and also severe warnings not to risk himself, and that the situation had become intolerable. But their words didn't sink in. In moments of danger the rabbi became a figure of courage and valor, with no signs of fear or panic on his face. Thanks to these characteristics, he was often able to save the situation. Only after danger passed could we see how those frantic days had affected him and his wife with the pure soul, the righteous Feiginyu[3] z”l. She, too, was partner to the great enterprise of saving lives, with the splendor of courage and the glory of benevolence. After each search episode, both of them would become sick and lie in bed for days or weeks.
I will tell the story of such a search in greater detail, a search which I personally witnessed: The rabbi z”tzl turned to my father a number of times and said that I should come under his protection in his basement, because I also was subject to the draft. This is what he said: “After all, there is no room in your house to hide him and I know that he, your son, is a learned young fellow. Let him come to me, to sit in the Beit Midrash and study the Torah which will protect and save him from all evil. Do you think I would turn away a member of this town when I also house those who come from afar?”

And I would rather be captured and sent to the front, than be one of those who endanger the life of such a dear, holy man. I did not accept his invitation and instead remained inside my house without going outside at all, but also without hiding anywhere since there was no appropriate place in our apartment. Luckily, the angel of destruction always skipped our apartment.

But once they paid a very early visit on a Friday morning, and the cry engulfed the town: the “flying battalion” has paid a surprise visit! According to what we were told, the soldiers were cruel; they would not have mercy on us and money would have no effect either. I was dragged by my father and the owner of our apartment to the rabbi's basement. I suffered much anguish over this, and pangs of conscience. But together with remorse, I felt a pang of great satisfaction at seeing the rabbi's glory in his act of rescue. The elevated emotion that engulfed me was similar to those moments in which I witnessed the glories of creation.

When I was led to the basement, all the others were already inside. Before I managed to make my way in the darkness, a horrified voice cried out: Open! Save me!

This was a young fellow whose hiding-place was uncovered, and he fell into the hands of the searchers. Somehow he succeeded in evading them and escaped, but his pursuers evidently noticed that he disappeared into the rabbi's house, and ran after him. The door to the basement was opened to the fellow who screamed in horror, but the hands of the fellow inside were shaking from panic and he simply could not close the hooks. It was a moment of pure terror; all the people present stopped breathing; everyone was sure that all was lost. They were certain that the rabbi would be arrested, the deserters would be revealed, the entire town would be disgraced and subject to the terror of pogroms. But the rabbi did not lose his composure for a moment. He stood on the cover of the breached basement and the hem of his wide cloak covered the opening. After joint efforts from inside, the secret door was finally locked. On that spot, the rabbi calmly greeted the trackers; in his hand was the set of keys to the many rooms in his house.

The head of the trackers asked if there were draft-dodgers in the house; the rabbi answered in the negative. When asked if he was willing to swear to that fact, the rabbi shook his head in the affirmative. He held the head of the group on his arm and said, Come with me! See, all the keys are in my hand, I'll open all the doors and you can search to your heart's content.

The trackers parted from him in friendship and said farewell.

The rabbi still had not calmed down from the frenzy and panic which left their mark on him, and already he was knocking on the basement door: He encouraged us and told us the good news, that the danger had passed. Almost every few minutes he would knock on the door of the basement to tell us which direction the trackers went and in which house they were found. A bit later he brought cakes to us in the basement, tea with milk. For lunch he brought us the traditional Friday cooked dish and challot. He brought it all to us with his own hands, not via an emissary.

Not long after, the Czar was toppled from his throne. The rabbi assembled all the “children” and told them, “My sons! Till now I gave you a hiding place, but now that the kingdom is a benevolent one, the Talmudic law of “Dina d'malkhuta dina” applies – in other words, we must obey the government's dictates. Go home now, do your duty and serve in the army. May God guard you from all evil.”

But the peace and quiet we so yearned for, lasted for only a brief period of time.

It happened not long after the rabbi's brave enterprise in saving young Jewish men: we began to suffer from pogroms and riots incited by Petlura[4] and Sokolovsky's[5] men and all kinds of gangs bearing different names. But they had one thing in common: their intentions were to plunder and murder the Jews.

The Angel of Death spread its wings on the town and darkened the lives of its inhabitants. This went on for about a year and a half; one gang would make its appearance and leave, then another would appear in its stead. Each group would rob, murder, and rape. A new group would appear to halt the robbery of the old group, then engage in the same acts themselves.

A Vaad Hatzala (Rescue Committee) was set up, headed by the rabbi, which started out by trying to raise money. This was difficult for the contributors, and for the fund raisers as well. The needs were great, and the “ransom money” was steep: for each gang we had to come up with clothes, boots, foodstuffs, gifts for the head of the gang and his deputy and a special gift for the entire gang. And everything had to come from the community, at a time when it was harder than ever to make a living and money was scarcely to be found. It was a crazy, frenzied period; business, work, and earning a livelihood – all these barely existed. And anyone who had a bit of money on the side, watched over it like the apple of their eye for no one knew what the morrow would bring.

The members of the Rescue Committee were bowed down with work: They had to visit each house many times until they succeeded in reaching the money-quota that was imposed on the new local authorities. It was dangerous to walk the streets, and even more dangerous to meet the leaders of the new gang in town. Who knew if they were interested in ransom money, or just out for blood? Perhaps they would take out their wrath and fury on those who walked into the lion's den of their own volition, while the other townspeople made themselves scarce in their hiding places? The rabbi accompanied the community's emissaries every single time; he was the first to enter the lion's den, the first to come face to face with the invaders when no one knew how this “meeting” would end.

Indeed, it came to pass that one day, the plunderers attacked the rabbi and inflicted a deep wound in his head. Yet the rabbi continued on his way while his head bled, radiant from joy that he had been privileged to protect the other Jewish souls with his very body.

The rabbi led the community for many years as faithfully as the shepherd tends to his flock. Unfortunately, the typhus epidemic that erupted at the end of the war took his pure soul.

May his memory live on with us for all eternity.

Translator's Footnotes

  1. Yehuda Leib Krinsky was a Hebrew scholar, theologian, businessman and philanthropist in Belarus in the late 1800s and early 1900s. He was aligned with the right wing or religious segment, as opposed to the secular branch, of the Haskala or Jewish Enlightenment. Return
  2. The time was 1914-1915 and the Russians were fighting WWI against the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The front lines, which kept shifting, were at times close to the area of Shumsk. Return
  3. Feiginyu is an affectionate form of the name Feige. Return
  4. Symon Petlura (1879-1926) was a Ukrainian socialist politician and statesman, one of the leaders of Ukraine's unsuccessful fight for independence following the Russian Revolution of 1917. He was briefly the president of Ukraine during the Russian Civil War (1918-1922). Petlura was assassinated in Paris in 1926. The name is also commonly spelled Petliura or Petlyura. Return
  5. Various accounts of pogroms in Ukraine in this period refer to threats and attacks by the Sokolovsky band or detachment, or “Sokolovsky's men.” Sokolovksy's first name is not given. Return

[Pages 199-200]

Dr. Jakobson, of Blessed Memory

by Pesach Lerner

Translated by Rachel Karni

Translator's notes: Pesach Lerner, the author of this chapter, was born in Shumsk in 1901 to Malka (Roichman) and Moshe Lerner. In 1921 he emigrated to Eretz Yisrael among the first group of Shumskers to do so, stopping on the way in Vienna, where he visited the grave of Theodore Herzl (photograph on page 144). Pesach Lerner married Esther Sudman, also from Shumsk, and was instrumental in the immigration of her parents, Yisrael and Sara Sudman, and many other members of their families, in effect saving their lives. After World War II many of the new immigrants from Shumsk found a warm welcome in the Lerner-Sudman home in Tel Aviv. Pesach Lerner founded the Organization of Shumskers in Israel and stood at its head for many years. He played a major role in the publication of the Shumsk Yizkor Book. Biographical information about Dr. Herman Jakobson and his family appears in the endnotes to this chapter.

Generations of people from all strata of the town were cared for by Dr. Jakobson, of blessed memory. He received expressions of gratitude from people of different religions and ethnic groups on more than one occasion for having saved their lives. People in all of the villages of the area surrounding Shumsk came to him to receive the benefit of his medical expertise.

I came to know him when he was already elderly and had grown hard of hearing. My parents, who had known him for much longer, said that he had not changed: straight-backed, heavy of gait and hard of hearing. But when a patient entered, he perked up his ears and diagnosed every twinge of his heart. No irregular heart rhythm remained unnoticed — and this without equipment.

In the course of the many years that he served as the only doctor in Shumsk and the surrounding area thousands passed through his devoted hands. He knew them all — each of them with their weaknesses and their unique human qualities. He did not speak much. He was reserved and immersed in his work and in his inner thoughts, like a person who is weighed down by something and does not engage in idle banter or lighthearted conversation.

As a person who was highly educated, he differed from most of the members of the Jewish community of Shumsk. But he did not belong to the “intelligentsia” of the town and he did not emit an aura of superiority to others as they did.

It was said that he had been an outstanding yeshiva student in his youth and had been ordained as a rabbi and then left the world of the yeshivas. How he came to medicine was not known. Evidently his extraordinary talent stood him in good stead and he was able to bridge the gap of years that he had spent in the yeshiva in the course of obtaining his medical education. Because of his yeshiva studies he was not in awe of the level of Talmudic erudition of some of his esteemed patients, who tried to impress him with their expertise in Talmud. He acted as if the words of the patient were not directed to him personally and gave the impression that he had no time for anything else but the physical and emotional health of the patient he was caring for at that moment. The human being, and his life, were his overriding concerns. If each one would think this way, and respect the rights of everyone else to live, there would be no more wars and mankind would be saved.

But this was not in his hands.

War[1] broke out, and in addition to the terrible suffering this caused there was the suffering from an epidemic, which followed the course of the war as ravens follow a plow. I was a teenager in the town when the typhus epidemic broke out[2]. People fell ill, one after another. Those who had not yet fallen ill walked about like shadows from lack of sleep, exhaustion and worry.

I volunteered together with many other young people in the town in an organization called Bikur Cholim whose purpose was to care for sick people during the night.

The epidemic struck every home in the town and resulted in quite a few deaths. Despair struck everyone. With every person who fell ill, the world of the members of his household and that of his relatives fell apart. People did not leave their homes, and the usual, traditional social life we had had in our town ceased. Those who had fallen ill were kept in isolation, and those who had not yet fallen ill kept their distance from others.

The only one who went from bed to bed, without fear or weariness, was Dr. Jakobson. In spite of his age and his poor health he visited each sick person — at any hour of the day or night. In this time of despair Dr. Jakobson was a beacon of hope and succor. Everyone believed that his touch would bring salvation.

On rainy cold nights, during freezing stormy days, he would wend his way in the heavy mud and reach each and every corner of the town.

On dark nights his young son Ilya would accompany him. Ilya would walk ahead of his father, holding a kerosene lamp or a candle and light the way. This went on for many, many nights.

With us, the young volunteers, he behaved as if he were our friend. He would give us instructions for the care of the patients and rely on us — or at least he made us believe that he was relying on us.

One night I had been appointed by him to stay with two patients who were lying in the same room. It was already very late. I noticed that one of the patients was losing consciousness; his face had changed and he was exhibiting very worrisome signs. I knew that the hour was very late and Dr. Jakobson had just left an hour earlier for his home. But the responsibility for the matter spurred me on and I reached him, running all the way.

He was already sleeping. I awoke him and entered his office. He listened to what I told him, exuding both worry and trust in my words. He gave me a prescription with a special order to the pharmacist, and told me to remain awake all the night, to watch the patient carefully and to sit next to him. He told me to continually change the ice bags on his head — and if I did this — he calmed me — the crisis would pass and the patient would recover.

Four hours later — after a short night of rest — Dr. Jakobson was at the home of this patient in order to hear about his condition.

When he found that the patient had improved, a rare smile spread over his face, it seems to me the first time I had ever seen him smile. He shook my hand and thanked me warmly and said, “We have saved another Jewish soul.”

I will never forget Dr. Jakobson[3], a great Jew and a profound human being.

Translator's Footnotes

  1. World War I. Return
  2. A typhus epidemic struck Russia, Poland and Romania from 1918 to 1922, causing millions of deaths. Shumsk was probably hardest hit in 1918-19, when Pesach Lerner was 17 or 18 years old. Return
  3. Irma Benyaminov, the granddaughter of Dr. Herman Jakobson, provided the following information about Dr. Jakobson and his family.
    Herman Jakobson was born in 1882. He studied at a yeshiva and was ordained as a rabbi but then decided to study medicine. He completed his medical studies in Riga in 1911 and worked as a physician in Shumsk until his premature death in 1934. As a young man he had joined the Narodniks, a political group in Russia that believed in living close to nature and serving the ordinary man and the peasants. This belief is what motivated him to go to Shumsk and to remain there. As this chapter attests, he was beloved and deeply respected by the people of Shumsk.
    Dr. Jakobson and his family resided in a very large apartment in Shumsk. His home served as a meeting place for the intellectuals of the town. After his death, his widow, Esther, who was not well, moved to Rovno to live with her daughter Dora and son-in-law. When the Germans entered Shumsk the Jakobson home in Shumsk was confiscated to serve as the Gestapo headquarters (see "This is How It Began" by Wolf Berenstejn on page 21 of this yizkor book).
    Dr. Jakobson's wife was killed in the massacre of the Rovno Jewish community in 1942. His oldest son, Yoseph (also known as Iozo), who had studied medicine, perished in a typhus epidemic in Buchara, where he had fled from his home in Rovno. Yoseph's wife and daughter survived the war and went to Israel. Chuna, the husband of his daughter Dora, was murdered in a mass grave in Kostopol, where the Jews of Rovno who were arrested in the third German action in Rovno were deported. Dora and her daughter, who had fled to the Soviet Union at the outset of the German invasion of the area, survived the war and went to Israel.
    Dr. Jakobson's daughter Raya, who was a trained nurse, lived in Warsaw. She worked as a nurse in the Warsaw Ghetto and at the end of the uprising in the ghetto escaped to the Aryan side, was hidden by an acquaintance and succeeded in obtaining false papers with an Aryan identity. She lived and worked as a nurse in Warsaw in this guise until the end of the war and later emigrated to Israel.
    Ilya, Dr. Jakobson's youngest son (who is referred to in this chapter), was an engineer in 1940, living with his wife and daughter in Lvov. He had a senior position in a large industrial firm. Shortly after the Russians entered the area as a result of the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, the Russians demanded that Ilya serve as an informer. He was tortured in an NKVD (Russian secret police) interrogation and died shortly thereafter. His wife, Matia, and 4-year-old daughter, Irma Hermina, perished in the Nazi massacre of the Jews of Lvov. Return

[Pages 201 - 203]

Zecharaya Schreiber (Roichman)

by Bella Tzoref

Translated by Sandy Bloom



He was what we called a “moreh–melamed” (both these words should be pronounced with the accent on the next–to–last or penultimate syllable).[1]

He taught us everything. Anyone who wanted to give his children a more advanced education than that in the cheder (elementary school), yet wanted to cleave to tradition and not have others suspect him of apikorsus (heresy), would send his children to Zecharya Roichman or, as they called him, Zecharya Schreiber.[2]

He always rented a place to live and he had no apartment of his own. He didn't talk much and it was hard to get him to reveal personal details about himself. In fact, he tried to avoid any conversation about himself, I guess it just didn't interest him. However, I do remember that once I was with him when I was 12 years old and asked him how it happened that he married the woman who was his wife. For a moment he was silent, but when his amazement at my question subsided, he opened his mouth and started talking; the words streamed from his mouth, on and on. And the things he said in that monologue were very characteristic of that time period.

It turned out that his grandfather was born in Shumsk. Yet he, the grandson, lived –– for some inexplicable reason –– in Odessa. It is likely that his father had migrated to Odessa, the “city of enlightenment,” at some point in his life, so his son remained there too. There Zecharya was educated, there he studied, grew up and completed his education, which evidently was home–based and not in schools. It was only when he reached the age of army draft that they found that he was listed as a Shumsk resident with no permit to live in Odessa, thus deserving of a severe punishment.

After many efforts and much difficulty, Zecharya managed to be sent to Shumsk. The town tried to figure out how to save the fellow from the draft and then one of the town's influential leaders (named Akiva Shimons) suggested a plan: to marry Zecharya to a Shumsk young lady, who “by coincidence” was a relative of his. This way, two evil decrees could be averted simultaneously: The fellow could evade the draft and also avoid expulsion to some even more desolate place. Thus, the wedding took place.

So Zecharya began to put down roots in Shumsk. Since he had no profession, no money and no money–making talents, he began to teach children.

Within a short time, everyone liked the new fellow, respected him, and gave their children to him willingly. They especially liked the fact that Zecharya also taught Russian, which was a very useful language. He taught Tanach (Bible) and modern Hebrew.

Zecharya had no classroom of his own, so he would spend hours going from one home to another to teach. The students liked him because even though Zecharya himself was a very devout Jew, he was not strict with his charges. He told them jokes, his classes were high spirited, and he knew how to be lenient.

He opened up new vistas for the children when he talked to them. The children grasped that there were other worlds beyond Shumsk, worlds with different lifestyles and spheres of knowledge. When we were in his company, we rose to magical and enjoyable heights of imagination.

During the First World War period in 1914, Shumsk was under siege and most of all, its future was uncertain. The town was often cut off from its Jewish neighbors and disconnected from sources of livelihood. But Zecharya continued to teach, without taking money from his pupils. In exchange for his hours of work, he asked only for foodstuffs: flour, groats, salt, sugar, legumes and the like. When asked why he did this, he would launch into a long, tireless explanation for acting as he did, occasionally repeating himself. The following is an approximate summary of his beliefs:

“The world is undergoing renewal, and changing its ways. Communism will change human relationships for the better. Money will be wiped out and instead, humanity will return to barter: Each person will receive what he needs from his compatriots, and the reverse. Each person will be forced to create his own necessities/consumer goods, which he will use as payment for his needs. Hoarding will not be possible. There will be no accumulation of capital. People will not know what the day will bring, what will happen on the morrow. The result? The world will be full of hard work and creativity; there will be no class distinctions between those who accumulate and hoard assets and those who don't; human beings will be delivered from wars, etc. etc.”

He explained that he formulated this view as a proposed rectification of communist ideology, and which he personally sent to Leib Trotsky, “member of our own faith, one of ours.” The hope was that Trotsky would accept this proposal for tikun olam (repairing the world) by equality, based on Jewish foundations of righteousness.

The letter never attained its goal. Communism did not redeem humanity according the dictates of Reb Zecharya Schreiber. But to the Shumsk residents, sunk in their small world of small, binding conventions, his words proclaimed “everything could be different” and encouraged people to think. The youths thought of alternatives, though not exactly in this direction. To the young people, Zecharya's words and theories gave them license to think differently, as well.

In later years, Reb Zecharya lived near us in rented rooms, and would shore up his meager livelihood by giving lessons in the villages in our area to children in Jewish families living among non–Jews.

The years were 1917–1918, terrible years when bloodthirsty Petlura's gangs[3] roamed the villages. Mortal danger hovered above any Jew who they happened to encounter on the roads. The only one who was not afraid was Zecharya. He alone went back and forth to the villages, forced to do so for his meager livelihood even though this put him in very dangerous positions. Everyone warned him, again and again.

But Reb Zecharya did not understand them. Why should he worry – why would anyone want to harm him? Why?

We will never know if Reb Zecharya was, indeed, terrorized before his death. But one Shabbat morning, a bright summer day, a wide–stepping non–Jew appeared alone on the empty streets of the Jewish village, and asked for the rabbi's house. “Where is the rabbi? I have a pressing matter for him.”

At first the Jews did not allow him to see the rabbi, Rabbi Beirinyo. Perhaps, they thought, he was sent by the Petlura gang to extort money. But he told them that a Jew had been killed in the village and, since Judaism was the victim's faith, he wanted to inform the rabbi so that the victim could be buried properly.

Indeed, the day after Shabbat they went to the village and the slain Jew was none other than Reb Zecharya Schreiber. They found him wrapped up in his tallit, stretched out on his stomach, covered with blood. Meanwhile, the blood had congealed around the gaunt body.

The non–Jews said the following about Zecharya's last moments:

“The Jew was holy and as such, we walked with him. We wanted to save his life, that he should not die. We went to him, we warned him, we said, ‘We take responsibility for [the non–Jewish] members of our village. No one of ours will harm you, but what can we do: Demons and foreigners frequent our village, and these want only to kill. From us, they will take our bread, they will slaughter our cows, but from the Jew – they will be satisfied with nothing else but life itself.’

“But Reb Zecharya did not believe us: He covered himself in a tallit, stood for hours in prayer, and when the Petlura people came, those robbers who came from the outside, he went to them and explained: ‘Most important of all is the human soul,’ and ‘Human life is holy and there is no greater pleasure than maintaining human life.’ He explained to them other, similar ideas.

“They listened to him attentively. We calmed down; we thought, perhaps they will let him live. And I walked home,” continued the non–Jew, bearer of the news. “At home I told my wife, my family, of the magical influence of the holy man, of his great words. But after a short time I heard about two–three, maybe four, shots ring out. And my heart told me, that they killed him.

“I was afraid to return to the house where the holy man lived. But something pulled me there. I thought, perhaps he's still alive, perhaps I can still save him.

“I found him there lying, dead, wrapped up in a blood–stained tallit, lifeless. The unfortunate soul had died as a holy man.”

Translator's Footnotes

  1. In Hebrew, melamed means teacher and connotes a teacher of young pupils, and moreh indicates a teacher of older pupils as well. The author specifies the Ashkenazic pronunciation used in Europe, as opposed to the Sfardic pronunciation used in Israel with emphasis on the last syllable. Return
  2. Schreiber means writer. Return
  3. Symon Petlura (1879–1926) was a Ukrainian socialist politician and statesman, one of the leaders of Ukraine's unsuccessful fight for independence following the Russian Revolution of 1917. He was briefly the president of Ukraine during the Russian Civil War (1918–1922). During the revolution and ensuing civil war, armed forces and nationalist groups carried out hundreds of anti–Jewish pogroms, or violent attacks and other crimes against Jews and their property. By some accounts, Petlura himself condemned anti–Semitic pogroms but failed or lacked authority to intervene. Petlura was assassinated in Paris in 1926. The name is also commonly spelled Petliura or Petlyura. Return

[Pages 211-213]

Yisrael Sudman

by Yitzhak Geler

Translated by Sandy Bloom


Note: In this chapter Yitzchak Geler tells about the manifold activities of Yisrael Sudman in both Shumsk and in Eretz Yisrael, especially in helping other people from Shumsk who arrived after the Holocaust. Sudman himself wrote about his arrival in Shumsk and his life and activities there, on pages 129-135 of this yizkor book.<.td>


Yisrael Sudman


I knew Yisrael Sudman when I was still a child. My father[1] used to take me with him to prayers on Shabbat and holidays in the Oliker Kloyz shul, where my grandfather Matisyahu davened, as did my cousins Hersh and Yoel.

We enjoyed going to this synagogue because of its warm, supportive atmosphere that allowed children to attend even if they were occasionally noisy during the prayers or Torah-reading. I have particularly fond memories of the High Holidays: the Rosh Hashanah prayers, Kol Nidre on Yom Kippur eve, blowing of the shofar, and the other festivals too. To us children, Simchat Torah and its dancing was most special of all. Sudman was the one who led the dancing and organized the young people to sing Zionist Hebrew songs, while dancing the traditional dances, until the late hours of the night. This was not done in the other synagogues in the vicinity.

I came in contact with Yisrael Sudman a bit later when he worked as bookkeeper in the Shumsk bank. At that point in time, I had to work to help pay for my tuition in the Tarbut school. So, after school was over, I worked in Mottel Chazan's pharmacy and as part of my duties I was sent to the bank, where I used to see Yisrael (he worked together with Yehiel Kanfer). I was a bit jealous of Yisrael's work.

Yisrael Sudman was known for his love for Eretz Yisrael. He was committed to any and all projects connected to national, Zionist, Jewish causes, including Keren Kayemet and Keren Hayesod.[2] I myself was a member of the Hechalutz Hatzair youth movement.[3] Sometimes I would accompany my older cousins - Dov, Moshe, and Motel Geler,[4] members of Hechalutz - in their visits to the Sudman family. The Sudman home acted as a magnet for people to gather, hear words of Torah, enjoy cultural and Zionist activities and work on projects to raise money for the Keren Kayemet or Keren Hayesod.

I left Shumsk long before World War II broke out, went to Warsaw to study in the Teachers' Seminary, and from there to a Hachshara training program in Grochov.[5] That was followed by the terrible Holocaust years. I finally reached Eretz Israel in the summer of 1947.[6]

It was very important to me, first of all, to visit relatives, friends, even acquaintances. One day I went to visit the Lerner family; I had kept in contact with them through letters over the years. They received me warmly, and relieved my loneliness as an oleh chadash (new Israeli citizen) who was just starting to adjust myself to life in Eretz Israel. It was there, in the Lerner house, that I also met Yisrael Sudman again.[7]

Yisrael had aged and now looked older than his years. He was greatly distressed over the fate of his family that had been torn apart during the Holocaust, and of the Jews who had remained in Shumsk and were murdered by the Nazis. Yisrael, who had always held himself erectly, was now slumped over, as if accepting defeat. His once-happy eyes were now sunken, and emitted pain and sadness. Premature old age had taken its toll on him.

But Yisrael was very happy to see me, and would often ask me to tell him about the years that had passed during the war; who was left, who remained alive? And would they come, would they make aliyah,[8] and when? I paid many visits to the modest Sudman home, on Gedera Street at the corner of Allenby in Tel Aviv. Yisrael spent much time helping me with my studies in economics and mathematics. At the time, I worked in the Finance and Accounts Division of Neve Oved near the Agricultural Center, and I needed professional instruction -- which I received from Mr. Sudman. He even provided me with appropriate textbooks, so that I would be able to function appropriately at work. Meanwhile his wife, Sarah, would serve us tea and all kinds of delicious homemade baked goods.

I would also visit him in his place of work, in the Central Bank Ha-Poalim on Montefiore Street in Tel Aviv, which was also close to my place of work. There I would find him bent over a pile of accounts of customers of the bank, rapidly making interest calculations in his head. He was faster than the younger workers who used newfangled, speedy calculators.

I was always amazed to see how sharp he was at work. He also had many wonderful character traits; at work he was thorough and in-depth, meticulous and devoted, honest and faithful.

We often talked about the situation in the country. He was heartsick over the situation in Israel at the time: the multiplicity of political parties and the divisiveness, instead of the unity and love of Israel that should have prevailed after the Holocaust.

In our conversations, I learned to respect his personality, his opinions, his strong faith and his beliefs. He hoped to continue his various activities for the unity of Israel. This included his own home, which he built in Tel Baruch with a space for a synagogue. Yisrael hung a sign at the entrance gate to the synagogue that said Kol Yisrael Haverim (All Jews are friends).

Yisrael was active in founding an organization of Shumsk people in Israel. He was also one of the initiators of a benevolence fund for this group. All these gave him much satisfaction and a much-needed break from his ordinary work in the bank. He guarded very penny of the fund, and ran it strictly. I recall that at one of the meetings, I was elected (together with Shraga Weissman) to the inspection committee of the Gemach (free loan) fund. We inspected the account and I was amazed at the way that Yisrael insisted on listing the account activities in a simple notebook. We tried to convince him to buy better and bigger notebooks, but he did not agree with us. It was against his worldview and ethics.

Yisrael corresponded with my father, who remained in Russia. The two of them had been friends back in Shumsk; they shared memories of the shul. I used to forward Yisrael's letters to my father, who was happy to receive them and were a source of encouragement to him in a foreign country.

My father wanted to make aliyah to Israel. After many requests and repeated efforts, the Soviet authorities allowed my father to leave the country on May 12, 1965, and move to Israel. When Father arrived, he inquired into the fate of the other Shumsk survivors in Israel and especially of Yisrael Sudman and his wife. He was very sad to hear that Sudman was no longer alive.

On May 25, there was a memorial ceremony for Sudman. Father implored me to accompany him to the ceremony in Kiryat Shaul. There, in that cemetery, Father recited the Kaddish for the ascent of Sudman's soul.

May his memory be for a blessing.

Translator's Footnotes

  1. Yitzhak Geler's father was Chaim Geler, who wrote “How My Son and I Survived,” pages 365-368 in this Yizkor Book. Return
  2. Keren Kayemet and Keren Hayesod were national funds for rebuilding a Jewish homeland. Return
  3. Hechalutz (Heb.) -- Literally, youth pioneers. It is the name of a worldwide movement, founded in Odessa in the first decade of the 20th century, of young people who were preparing for pioneering immigration to Palestine and later the State of Israel and were planning to settle the land. Return
  4. More about the Geler family is in the translator's footnotes to “The Zionist Underground in Soviet Shumsk,” pages 117-122 in this Yizkor Book. Moshe and Motel Geler are in photographs in that chapter. Yitzhak Geler's brother Yaakov Geler wrote “Shumsk at Her End,” pages 66-79 in this Yizkor Book. Return
  5. Grochuv was located in a suburb of Warsaw, Poland. Return
  6. Letters that Yitzhak Geler wrote to Shumskers in Palestine about his experiences before, during and after World War II are found in the Shumsk Yizkor Book, pages 329-342. As of the time of this chapter translation, the letters have not been translated to English. Return
  7. Yisrael Sudman's daughter Esther was married to Pesach Lerner. Return
  8. Aliyah (Heb.) -- Literally, ascent; used to refer to immigration to Israel from the Diaspora. Return


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