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[Page 90]

Extracts From the
Ledger of the Chevra Kadisha of Yampol

by Aryeh Leib Gellman

(The ledger was in the possession of the Gabbai, the late Rabbi Shalom Lerner.)


As noted before, at my request, in 5690 (1929-30) I was sent a copy of the ledger of the Chevra Kadisha in the holy community of Yampol by the head of the town's Bet Din, Rabbi Schmuel Lerner (Olav ha-Shalom), who was killed in the recent bloody Holocaust together with all of the townspeople, holy and innocent victims, may G-d avenge their blood!

In his letter to me, on the first day of the Sidra “Hu Chiyech” of 5690, [Deut. 30, 20] he wrote the following:

“…..I immediately fulfilled the request of my dear friend and transcribed the register here which was written in the hand of the gaon Rabbi Yechezkel Landau, who was rabbi and Rosh Yeshiva in the town of Yampol in the Volhyn district before moving to the city of Prague. Those who thought and claimed that he was rabbi of Yampol in the district of Podolia are making a grave error. There is a tradition among the elders of this city that when the previous rabbi of Prague was on his death bed, and the residents of that city entreated him to tell them who to appoint to take his place after his death, and who could “fit that cloak,” his answer was “perhaps Rabbi Meir [is right].” No one understood his reply, and they did not know whom to appoint to the position. They asked the greatest rabbis, but none had a solution. Then they came to Yampol to the “Noda BiYehuda” and he solved the riddle. “Perhaps Rabbi Meir [is right] who disagrees with the talmudic statement that [we assume a dying man is among] the majority of those on their deathbed who do in fact die, and he takes into account the few who survive since there are a few who survive, and therefore there is no need to consider who would replace him since he might survive.” This solution pleased them, and they decided to appoint the Gaon the Noda BiYehuda as their rabbi, and sent for him with great honor and admiration. The residents of our city of Yampol requested him to return here, but he was not inclined to follow that course. In his book [Noda BiYehuda] is printed a letter from his son the gaon Rabbi Yaakovka saying that his father was rabbi and Rosh Yeshiva here for a decade. It is also known that the [author of] “Hafla'ah” [Rabbi Pinchas Horowitz of Frankfurt] sent a letter to the Mechutan of the Noda BiYehuda that he should request that the Noda BiYehuda live in peace and friendship with the tzaddik Rabbi Michal, the Maggid of Zloczow, who was then living in Yampol, Volhyn. Besides his handwriting and signature exist since his time in the register of our Chevra Kadisha. This is the absolute truth, do not think otherwise.”

Copied from the Ledger itself

With the help of G-d

With Mazal Tov we are affirming the regulations which were made by the members of the rules committee who were chosen in the presence of the entire Chevra Kadisha.

The electors will appoint four officers. Two in place of the two trustees and two in charge of visiting the ill. Now, immediately all the members of the Chevra Kadisha will elect by majority one trustee for a three year term. This trustee will have no other appointment, he will be responsible overall. He will be in charge of all the Chevra Kadisha's expenditures and income. All pledges will be entrusted to him and all expenditures will be through him, all monies will pass through his hands. He is not permitted to release even a single Prutah without a receipt from the monthly officer, and the officer will immediately record the receipt in the ledger. The trustee will hold the receipt until the auditing, and any expenditure without a receipt will not be taken into account. Whenever a pledge is received it will be immediately recorded in the ledger and so also when the pledge is redeemed.

The trustee (for three years) will receive a note with the signature of the treasurer each month. More than that requires the signature of all the officers in the city for [expenditures] up to one Ducat. More than that requires the signature of six officials, and the seventh from monies for visiting the ill. Any discounts which will be made to any preacher or any other discounts, or whatever expenditures are necessary for the needs of the Chevra, the trustee will receive only the note of the treasurer, but all purchases will be received by the trustee. The officer in charge of visiting the ill, will visit the ill in the hospice of the destitute every day. Whatever is needed by the ill, the treasurer will give a note to the trustee who will purchase the needs of the ill. All the needs of the hospice, especially since the appointment of the officer in charge of visiting the ill, and all misfortunes (may there be none) when taking pledges all the officers will sit together and when decisions are made all the officers will sit together.

To receive members to the Chevra from among those who were not members this year before Pesach, permission is granted to accept five men into the Chevra with a majority vote of the appointees, there being sixteen appointees. After the end of this year, the Chevra will not accept more than one member each year upon a majority vote of the entire membership. Four negative votes of eligible voters can withhold the acceptance. This is for six years. After the end of six years after the coming Pesach they can be accepted by a majority vote of the entire membership. The exception is children under three years who can be accepted just by the officers!

When there are arbitrators, then whoever holds any appointment at the time of the arbitration cannot transfer his appointment. However, if he has no appointment at all, or if he wants a new appointment which he did not have at the time of the arbitration, although he may have held previously but presently he holds no appointment, then the two other arbitrators cannot embarrass him altogether, they can just choose three others and he will be among the three. The two arbitrators must choose an officer from among these three!

Whatever the Chevra charges for books must be paid from the Chevra's money before any other expenditures which the trustee releases based on notes as above. If he holds no money belonging to the Chevra, then any expenses he incurs will be based on a 'hetter iska' (contract to invest money and circumvent usury prohibitions). Every quarteryear the officers must meet and audit with the trustee all expenses and income which passed through his hands and immediately record it in the ledger. All this in the presence of the rabbi and recorded by the rabbi. All this only as long as the rabbi is here.

From now on, whoever is required to donate a dinner will not be able to redeem it. He must actually give a dinner.

For the Shmini Atzeres dinner, the monthly officer will purchase through the trustee ten pots of honey and the wax will be sold by the trustee and will be for the other needs of the dinner. But he will not spend even one prutah more than that on the needs of the dinner the members of the Chevra will now draw lots and each one in his turn will accompany the officer spend the night with those on their deathbeds or for other duties. Similarly, he will attend Tahara together with the officer and will attend to the ill to provide them with all their needs and all will be given with the approval of the officer and will be recorded in the ledger. The officers are obliged to fulfill all these regulations and all will be done for the sake of Heaven. May it be His will that death be swallowed up eternally, and we will go up joyfully to Jerusalem

Twelve days in the month of Adar in the year 5506

signed Yechezkel Segal Landau

Today, Monday, the tenth of Iyar 5507 all the members of the Chevra in our community gathered together, and those who did not have time to come themselves sent their opinion with their relatives, and they voted and accepted with mazal Reb Zelig son of Reb M. as trustee for three years in accordance with the regulations on the other side of the page by a majority vote. In fact he had two majorities, i.e. a majority of all the members of the Chevra whether related to him or not, and when we discounted all the invalid votes he was chosen in the presence of all the members of the Chevra and will conduct himself exactly in accordance with the regulations on the other side of the page. May G-d give length of days and years to all of Israel held previously but presently he holds no appointment, then the two other arbitrators cannot embarrass him altogether, they can just choose three others and he will be among the three. The two arbitrators must choose an officer from among these three!

Whatever the Chevra charges for books must be paid from the Chevra's money before any other expenditures which the trustee releases based on notes as above. If he holds no money belonging to the Chevra, then any expenses he incurs will be based on a 'hetter iska' (contract to invest money and circumvent usury prohibitions). Every quarteryear the officers must meet and audit with the trustee all expenses and income which passed through his hands and immediately record it in the ledger. All this in the presence of the rabbi and recorded by the rabbi. All this only as long as the rabbi is here.

From now on, whoever is required to donate a dinner will not be able to redeem it. He must actually give a dinner.

For the Shmini Atzeres dinner, the monthly officer will purchase through the trustee ten pots of honey and the wax will be sold by the trustee and will be for the other needs of the dinner. But he will not spend even one prutah more than that on the needs of the dinner the members of the Chevra will now draw lots and each one in his turn will accompany the officer spend the night with those on their deathbeds or for other duties. Similarly, he will attend Tahara together with the officer and will attend to the ill to provide them with all their needs and all will be given with the approval of the officer and will be recorded in the ledger. The officers are obliged to fulfill all these regulations and all will be done for the sake of Heaven. May it be His will that death be swallowed up eternally, and we will go up joyfully to Jerusalem

Twelve days in the month of Adar in the year 5506

signed Yechezkel Segal Landau

Today, Monday, the tenth of Iyar 5507 all the members of the Chevra in our community gathered together, and those who did not have time to come themselves sent their opinion with their relatives, and they voted and accepted with mazal Reb Zelig son of Reb M. as trustee for three years in accordance with the regulations on the other side of the page by a majority vote. In fact he had two majorities, i.e. a majority of all the members of the Chevra whether related to him or not, and when we discounted all the invalid votes he was chosen in the presence of all the members of the Chevra and will conduct himself exactly in accordance with the regulations on the other side of the page. May G-d give length of days and years to all of Israel and may death be swallowed up forever. That which was before me in my home I have written and signed for a record on the above date.

Yechezkel Segal Landau

Today, the second of Tevet 5508 was an auditing with the leader, the respectable Reb Zelig, trustee of the Chevra Kadisha according to notes and [we concluded that the Chevra] owes that leader the amount of two hundred and forty four ducats based on a 'hetter iska' as was audited before me on the above date.

signed Yehezkel Segal Landau

The amendment cited on the other side of the page, that whoever is required to donate a dinner cannot redeem it, is a proper and correct amendment, being that because of this the dinner is delayed after Atseres[*2] until it is forgotten and is never payed at all. However, presently, since the expenses of the Chevra have risen this year because they were involved in the Mitzva of building the courtyard in front of the synagogue, they fell into debts because of high interest. Therefore all the members of the Chevra Kadisha present here have agreed unanimously that why should we eat [a festive dinner at the time we are accruing] interest, and all agreed that each should redeem his dinner with money and the money will be delivered to the rabbi to pay the debts of the Chevra Kadisha so that they do not fall into [debts] for increasingly high rates of interest. Today the fourth day of Sivan 5508.

Yechezkel Segal Landau

Reb Isaac Katz was obliged to give a dinner on all kinds (?) and paid his undertaking (? abbreviation), therefore he is released from his dinner. Reb Yehoshua paid a gold ducat for the dinner he was oblige to give, therefore he is released from providing a dinner. The learned Reb Nachman Charash paid a gold ducat for a large dinner therefore he is released from his obligation to provide a dinner. The learned Heshel Bathath [abbreviation, probably incorrectly
transcribed] paid a gold ducat for a large dinner and is thus released from that dinner. These three ducats, i.e. from Reb Yehoshua and Reb Nachman and Reb Heshel were received by the treasurer Reb Shimon for honey for the dinner of Simchas Torah.

Yechezkel Segal Landau

Today, Monday the fourth of Kislev 5509, in the presence of the entire Chevra, were renewed [the regulation] that all pledges and expenses and income must be through the principal trustee, Reb Zelig, and it is forbidden for any officer to accept any pledge or income, even a single prutah. Just the trustee will pay all the expenditures of the Chevra according to notes on 'hetter hiska' and no note from the officers will be returned unpaid. Also for the coming Simchas Torah the trustee is obliged to purchase six pots of raw honey [to be delivered] to the monthly officer for the purpose of the dinner and the wax will be for the officer for the purpose of the other expenses of the dinner. Other than that he will spend nothing on the dinner. From today on the officers and the trustee will act according to this regulation, and whichever of them acts otherwise will lose. If the officer acts otherwise and accepts any pledge or income then he will lose his appointment. If the trustee returns any note unpaid then no pledge or income may come through him. Also the debt to the trustee on the basis of 'hetter iska' must be paid in the best manner, and all the comunity property [literally 'holy vessels'] are in lien to the trustee. Together with what has been clarified, that the trustee is obliged to pay all the expenses of the Chevra from his own money on the basis of 'hetter iska,' it is stated explicitly that at least four hundred gold ducats will be paid to him [? abbreviation] on the basis of 'hetter iska.' When the trustee is not home then he must appoint another in his place to pay the expenses of the Chevra in a manner that no note will be returned unpaid. All this was decided by a quorum on the abovementioned date. The Sefer Torah of the Chevra which was written by the scribe Nosson Za”l was sold to Reb Yehuda son of Reb Donno Za”l until the twenty sixth of Nissan 5511.

Yechezkel Segal Landau

Today it was agreed by the officers with a cherem that from today on the Shmini Atzeres dinner will be no more than three Kar'b (abbreviation) and there will be no more profits from it, just the treasurer will wait without profit. First whatever the Chevra owes will be paid, whatever was given on profit [I think this means on the basis of the 'hetter iska.'] After that is paid, then the treasurer will be paid for the dinner with the best payment that the Chevra has. It is understood that he will not pay any expenditures except for the purpose of the burial of the destitute, heaven forbid. The Shemini Atzeres dinner is without distributing honey cake and drinking beer. I also affirm all these good [regulations] today Wednesday the twenty sixth of Nissan 5511

Yechezkel Segal Landau

The cherem [ban] has been anulled with regards to this matter. It is permissable to give to the poor and to visiting preachers and other travelers and to any passerby who stretches forth a hand. Also, it is permissable for the Chevra to donate to the repair of the synagogue and other Mitzvot and also to the repair of the cemetery.

Wednesday, the fifth of Tammuz 5513

Yechezkel Segal Landau

[Page 101]

Great Events in a Small Town

First Jewish inhabitants (in Yampol) came from Gaul, Spain
The famous Gaon (wise man) Reb Yechezkel Landau was one of the town's first rabbis (during the period 1745-1749.) The town becomes a great center for Torah study
The Yampol Bet ha-Midrash (house of study) has closets filled with prayer books and contemporary interpretations of the Torah.
The Righteous Reb Michal Zloczower, student of the Ba'al Shem Tov, became the town's spokesperson
His son Reb Yossel Yampol sits at the head of the dynasty of rabbis
Both father and son are buried in a tomb in the old cemetery
Blood Libel in Yampol (1750-1751.) Storm throughout the Jewish World
Influential Jewish Landlords imprisoned
Rabbi Elyakim, the famous wise man of Yampol was sent as the representative of the Committee of Four Lands (Poland, Russia, Lithuania and Galicia) to visit the Holy Pope in Rome
After six years of (outside) intervention, the shtetl of Yampol was liberated
Talmudic writer and thinker Reb Yitchak Ber Levinson (RIBA'L) resides in Yampol for a few years before settling in Kremenetz
The first modern Hebrew teacher Reb Yitchak Goldberg (Itsi Moshe Hersh) and Reb Alter Rimel (Alter Abraham Alikum's) disseminate the teaching of Hebrew in Hebrew, first in the town of Berdichev and second in Ostra
The Jewish youth publish a Hebrew journal in typed form under the name “HaChaya.” Only two issues appeared
Hebrew and Yiddish libraries are established in the surrounding towns.

[Page 103]

Holocaust Songs

by Hadassah Rubin


A Regard

Tell me, tell me, you can see, I am not crying.
My eye is empty, the heart turned to stone,
Tell me …

I want, I want in your words
To find yesteryear once again the gardens
Of yesteryears.

A fence, a hut … interrupt me -
Today, repeatedly, the place is filled with graves
And from the Valley.

The sky is departing. Interrupt me -
There remained my first joy,
Never to come back.

Tell me, tell me, you can see I am not crying
In black holes in the ground, bones are resting
Not covered with soil.

And from the valley, and from the bones
There is no path leading to anyone
As if the town was dead.

Tell me, tell me, through your words
I find my way to places from the past
Walking with a wobbly step.

I reach the place, the place from where
There is no return
Where the road comes to an end.

Tell me, tell me, you can see, I am not crying
Tell me which of these bones
In the valley asked about me?

Is it possible … that they have a grudge against me
Because I remained alive?
I, one of the town's inhabitants?

Tell me, tell me, you can see, I am not crying
Like a tomb - my heart turned to stone,
Fenced in with barbed wire!


My Jewish Child

The light from the boundless horizon
The total joy
From the wind's breeze
On the silk edge of the grass
From the play of rays
My tender feeling
Without a blemish, without a sin -
For you, my child
For you, the Jewish child.

So in your eyes
Let the reflection shine
In a joyful color.
However, have you understood
Your mother's last outcry
And is it crying out in you?

My hands become empty
Like the void of the desert.
The light is of no use to me any more.
I should have your pain and suffering
My child, my Jewish child.



During hot evening
On muggy evenings
I tell myself: have compassion
I tell myself: have compassion

I pat my hands
And I ask of them compassion
Don't rip the body
In bloody thoughts!

In muggy evenings,
With the eyes closed
I look for your, I call you.
My oppressed ones.

In muggy evenings
Don't tell me about compassion
I am the pain
I am the complaint.

[Page 106]

Our Shtetl is Burning

by M. Gvirtig


It's burning, brothers, it's burning!
Our poor shtetl, pathetically, is burning!
Furious winds with fury
Rip apart, burn and by blowing
Intensify the unrestrained flames
Everything in sight is ablaze!

It's burning, brothers, it's burning!
Out poor shtetl, pitifully, is burning!
The tongues of fire
Have already encircled the entire shtetl
And the furious winds are blowing,
Everything in sight is afire!

It's burning, brothers, it's burning!
It's possible that the moment may come
When the entire shtetl with you in it
Will remain in fire and flames
Like after a fire
Two black empty walls.

It's burning, brothers, it's burning!
The help depends primarily on you
If the shtetl is dear to you
Take the equipment, put out the fire
Put it out with your own blood
Show that you can do it!
Don't stand around, brothers, wasting time looking
With folded hands
Don't stand around, brothers, put out the fire.
Our shtetl is burning!…..


A Day of Revenge

And I tell you, brothers, remember what I say
The only consolation and compassion:
It will come, you hear! A day will come
Which will avenge us!

Revenge for our suffering and pain -
For the blood which was spilled by our enemies
Revenge for those whose remains
No human being will every find out about …

Revenge for the deeds which were not even heard of in Sodom
For mothers, orphans, widows
Revenge will cry out from the depth of the earth,
The blood of millions of human sacrifices.

The man will await, but without a doubt, will not see the outcome of the war
When our prophet will echo the words:
Revenge! I will take revenge!

The day will come, yes, I hope and believe
I see, brothers, his arrival from afar
And he will bring us joy like a pigeon
A message about the time of freedom.

[Page 108]

Chapters from Yampol Memoirs

by David Rubin

Enlightment and decline in the shtetl - Hassidic rabbis and thousands of Chassidim coming to the Memorial day - Yampol tanners, companies and organizations - Yampol students and synagogue members - The beginning of the Haskala (Intellectual) period - Establishment of the library - A few resentful people want to close it - We gather our own money for Tzedaka issues - The Zionist movement - The bath-house - Yampol water carriers -Yampol has its own orchestra - The dreadful Cholera epidemic - A wedding in the cemetery.

Chapter 1

A Shtetl Full of Famous Chassidim

Among the small towns surrounding Kremenetz (Volhyn region) was also included the town where I was born - Yampol. The Jews from the past, the 18th century, interpreted the origin of the town's name in the following manner: because the town is like an islet surrounded by the river 'Goryn,' it is called 'Yam-Pele' (Hebrew for wonder sea) and the origin of the name goes back to the time of the six days of creation … from the time when the first man gave every creation, every human being, every language, all towns and villages, as well as the seas and rivers, an appropriate name. There is no doubt as to the fact that the first man was a Jew who spoke only Hebrew, the Holy language … for this reason, the Jew is the decision maker …as a result all the Christians who could not speak the Holy language had to break their tongue and say 'Yam-Pol' to this very day …

Until the end of the 18th century, Yampol was distinguished from the neighboring shtetl by the tombs of 'rabbis' which could be found in the Yampol cemetery. Among the tombstones was a 'tomb' where two righteous Jews were buried … Reb Michal Zlotsever and his son Reb Yosel Yampoller. Both were buried in a tomb in the old cemetery, located almost within the town's limits.

In the second tomb, in the new cemetery, located a distance from the town, was buried the righteous Reb Yakov-Yosef from Ostra, the grandson of the famous righteous Rabbi Yi'vi, a student of the Ba'al Shem Tov, who resided in Ostra, the author of the famous Chassidic book “Rabbi Yi'vi”.

The 26th of the month of Tammuz is the Yarzheit of the death of the Ostra righteous man. On that day Ostra Chassidim came from all corners of the region, wealthy Jews in buggies, merchants in simple wagons drawn by horses, and the poor people on foot. I also believe that Ester Harinshtein, a magnate from Kiev, came to the memorial. She was from the Brotski family, a devoted Ostra Chassida (she quoted the Rebbe's Torah [insights.]) The grandchildren of the Ostra righteous man, Reb Yosele Kiniver and Reb Alter'uni from Ostra, also came to the 'ceremony.' …

The grandchildren were of different opinions about the rabbinic dynasty … both of them wanted to be the 'appointed heir,' 'the bearer of the throne.' The followers of the old rabbi were divided as to who should lead them, a part was behind the 'Kiniver' and a part for 'Ostra' … this was the reason for their disagreement. Both of the rabbis did everything possible to increase their support. The 'Kiniver' rabbi used to “prepare tables with food,” on the other hand, the 'Ostra' rabbi, Rabbi Alter'uni - a great Torah scholar with a sharp mind - served G-d… “with food and drink.” With “food and drink” vodka and other liquors were drunk and a variety of food was eaten when he prepared a special table for a special occasion, or even every day when Chassidim came to visit him.

On this above mentioned memorial day, the 'good Jews' (as the Rabbis were referred to) made good business because it is a known fact that every Jew misses something, every Jew has a worry, everyone has a serious problem: one's son is called to the army, someone else's child passes away at an early age, before the child reaches the age of one year it passes away, yet another has to decide about a match for his daughter. If we were to put down every problem, there would not be enough paper on which to write it.

The above mentioned needy people used to pay the rabbi's sexton for writing a note with the following text: Ploni and Ploni, or Plonit and Plonit (Mr. & Mrs.) are in need of a male child, or to make a better living, and asked the rabbi to use his influence on the heaven's government for them to have a male child, alive and well. To the note they added “pidyion”[*3] rich people used to give a lot more. Such notes [in Yiddish: Kvitl] were given to the rabbi by the hundreds with all kinds of requests on them.

The rabbi was held over for Shabbath and with great fanfare was led to pray in the Ostra or Trisker Synagogue After prayer, he sat at the table and read the Torah and other interpretations.

The rabbi's livelihood necessary to maintain his 'household' came from a mandatory monthly payment made by every Chassid. The payment was called 'Ma'amaid.' The rabbi had his sextons travel from town to town collecting the 'Ma'amaid.'

The rabbi also used to visit towns and villages and stay over for Shabbath. He presided over the festivity, read the Torah, took payments, drank and sang …

Besides the above mentioned 'Kiniver' and 'Ostra' righteous, we were also visited by other grandchildren of righteous men, who brought with them letters of important relationships.

From time to time, we were also visited by the famous “Rachmestrivke” rabbi, Rabbi Dudl (deceased.) Other good Jews also came to visit us, among them the Bazilier Rabbi, Rabbi Yosel David (deceased.) Later on he resided in Proskurow. At the end he was killed by Petlura's [*4] murderers . The Bazilier Rabbi was the rabbi of the craft-shop owners. He was very influential with them.

The town was inhabited by about eight to nine hundred souls, about a hundred and fifty of whom were salaried tailors, shoemakers, carpenters, furriers, blacksmiths, boiler makers, painters, water-carriers and barbers. Of the aforementioned craftsmen some of them made a decent living such as tailors who worked for the noblemen and the tailors who prepared seasonal clothes for the peasants. These tailors employed poor boys and girls who worked for almost no pay. The tailors used to travel from market place to market place.

Chapter 2

Yampol's Shopkeepers

For some time the Yampol shopkeepers were not permitted to open their shops in their homes. All stores had to be located together in the center of town.

The physical layout of the shops was as follows: two long buildings facing each other and joined by two doors. Each building consisted of about thirty rooms. The rooms were separated by wooden planks. Through the cracks in the planks, the shopkeepers could easily observe what was going on in the neighbor's shop … how much merchandise the neighboring shopkeeper had and evaluate its worth. Each shop had a door which had a square folding platform. The platform opened into a hanging table. The tables were very convenient. The shopkeepers put on them all kinds of items for sale. The doors with the hanging tables were facing each other so the shopkeeper could see what the other shopkeepers were selling … this was the cause of quarrels, one shopkeeper accusing the other of stealing away the customers with 'winks of the eye' … at the end of the day, or market fair when the shops were closed. Throughout the night the guard used to bang on the iron barrel to assure everyone that he was not asleep while guarding.

They used to say about the Yampol shopkeepers: “they earn a living but don't have enough money to buy merchandise.” Whatever profit they made on selling merchandise they spent on living … for this reason the shelves were empty of merchandise. Some experienced shopkeepers used to go bankrupt. A wholesaler with many years of experience used to come and make a deal, meaning he received (in payment) only twenty per cent of the value of the entire stock owed … and once again the credit account was opened and the shopkeeper was in business again.

This happened most of the time with the fabric stores. Other shopkeepers used to pay interest, mortgage their homes and work very hard at making a living. It was terrible when the New Year came and one had to buy out the promissory notes. It was a real tragedy … because who had money to buy out the promissory note? Solution - people made deals. People who were supposed to buy out the second promissory note were buying the third and the ones who had to purchase the third were buying the fourth or bought nothing at all. The main office used to send their senior employee for an inspection … when the shopkeepers found out about the inspection (through an unofficial note from the main office) they hid their merchandise during the night so the shops remained with bare, empty shelves … and the men from the shops went to the synagogue to pray in hope that everything would go well … only the women remained in the shops, wrapped in old shawls with their faces red and blue from irritation.

The main market fair days in Yampol were on Sunday and every two weeks on Tuesday. On Tuesday, on the market day, buyers and sellers from the surrounding town and cities came to trade The merchants traded a variety of merchandise. Every merchant sold the type of items in which he was a specialist.

This is the way the merchants traded in an attempt to make a living.

Chapter 3

Yampol Cheders

Yampol had no schools nor classes for that matter. What existed were Cheders (Sunday schools, attended by Jewish children six days a week) where Bible and Rashi and Tanach were taught.

From the health point of view, all Cheders in Yampol were on the lowest level. In a room of about two or three meters, ten to twelve students learned with the rabbi. In the same room, two of the rabbi's daughters, sitting near the bed, were working on a fisherman's net from a large roll of fishing line attached to the bed. They obtained the fishing line from a merchant for whom they were working. The daughters and the craftsmen made ten kopeks each per day. So by Passover they gathered a few rubles, enough to buy for themselves a dress and a pair of shoes … something which their father could not accomplish from teaching students.

The preschool Cheders looked even worse. About eighteen to twenty students sat in a damp, dark room, with the ceiling reaching almost the top of the table … the rabbi with the small Tallit, an oily kippah on his head, with a small whip along his side, provided the children with prayer and the fundamentals of the Torah.

The Torah and Rashi Cheders did not look any better than the preschool ones and the students were not any different either. The only difference was in the fact that the rabbi's daughters were not knitting a fisherman's net but were plucking chicken feathers for the mothers of the students, making the same money as the other two daughters and working toward the same goal.

Chapter 4

Yampol Bet Midrashim

Among the Yampol homes which reached about 150 in number, there stood like a giant among midgets, the Yampol Synagogue. The interior of the synagogue looked as follows: the dome of the synagogue was artistically decorated with the twelve signs of the Zodiac … two thick white columns supported the upper part of the building, the Holy Ark, rows of painted and polished benches and stands. The interior of the synagogue was very nicely arranged. The Yampol synagogue was in no way inferior to the surrounding synagogues in the largest towns nearby.

At the time, the entrance and the reflecting lights were also not inferior … a narrow street separated the synagogue from the Beit Midrash and from the Trisker home of prayer. Nearby, across the street, was an Ostra home of prayer. The synagogue followed the 'Ashkenazi' way of praying, the remaining home of prayer the 'Sephardic' way.

Most of the people who prayed in the synagogue were proprietors of craft workshops, there were few aristocrats such as the paramedic, the lawyer, the representative of the 'Singer sewing machines' … smoking and drinking of liquor at a memorial service were always forbidden. The leadership and sextons in the synagogue came from the working class of people.

The majority, including butchers, shopkeepers, people working in the village, small merchants, all prayed in the Beit Midrash. In the Beit Midrash, people smoked cigarettes, drank liquor, learned Mishnayes and Shulchan Aruch. Every day three to four minyan sessions were held in the Beit Midrash, while in the synagogue there was only one in the morning and one in the evening. Often the Beit Midrash was visited by poor people from afar who stayed overnight. Homeowners used to provide them with shelter. The Beit Midrash was often visited by booksellers. They used to spread their books with large print on the table: Tchinot for lighting candles, for memorial services, for blowing the shofar … for children interesting novels and other important books. The majority of the town's people prayed in the Beit Midrash. It is a well known fact that every Jew wishes to be called to the Torah reading. Obviously it was impossible to call everyone to read the Torah so on Shabbath and the Holidays it was necessary to 'call' people to the Torah at a table, away from the bimah .. While the rich, the important homeowners were called to the Torah on the bimah, the majority the simple, poor folk, were given Torah calls at the table away from the bimah.

In the Trisker prayer home prayed Trisker, Zinkever, Ralhastrivker, and Makarever Chassidim. Here, people were deeply involved in the study of the Torah, with great devotion. Also elderly people sat in deep thought in contemplation of a difficult to understand passage or some other interesting passage.

The above mentioned Trisker prayer home was different from all other ones in Yampol because the 'Vitsmah Furnkah'[*5] was added to the Kaddish prayer in the Trisker home. In the Ostra prayer home it was forbidden to say the 'Vitsmah Furnkah.' For this reason the Hassidim were ready to break bones … in the same prayer home one could not come in wearing a straw hat.[*6] Many people were verbally abused for doing it.

In the Ostra prayer home as in the Trisker prayer home, young men and older ones, after Bar Mitzvah until they were married, as well as those who were already married and supported by their fathers-in-law, sat in the prayer rooms and learned the Torah studying to become rabbis, cantors, religious slaughterers, etc.

Chapter 5

Beginning of the Intellectual Movement

Aforementioned Yampol Cheder teachers taught their students only Torah. However at the end of the eighteenth century, the first signs of a new period were brought to town. An educated man, the son-in-law of Dayan Alter r' David's, as he was called, came to Yampol. He taught the children grammar according to the book. He and another educated man, Yaakov Railes, obtained secular books from somewhere and began to read them secretly. They also gave the books to others if asked for them. Alter r' David's did not play an important role in spreading intellectual thought among the youth of Yampol because he had only a few students. The Yampol fathers looked upon Alter as an unbeliever … they did not want him to teach their children and “change them into Christians” … and without a doubt they had evidence about it … first, Alter wore a high paper collar with two points bent downwards; second, he wore a penguin coat with a split in the back; third, he actually shook girls' hands; fourth, it was said that he gives his beard a rest … he shortens it, if not with scissors, he pulls or bites on it with his teeth; fifth, he smelled of something - they believe it was 'perfume'. As for smoking cigarettes on Shabbath there were 'those who said he did. A neighbor of Alter's noticed in his room, on Shabbath, after the kugl, a burnt out match. He asked: “Is it possible that Alter's wife did not clean the room for Shabbath, and sweep the dust from the floor?” How did it come about? I remember as if it were yesterday. I was his student. Alter r' David's was a capable man, a well rounded person … a good engraver, a good mathematician. He also had a good musical ear, sang nicely and had a good voice with a lot of feeling. It once happened that the Shul public prayer man leading the prayer on Yom Kippur became sick and did not show up for afternoon prayer. The synagogue was searching for a replacement to lead the early evening prayer. Some of the younger people mentioned the name of Alter r' David's, that he should lead the prayer. However, the majority was against this suggestion … the only reason for rejection was the fact that he was an epikoros! This is how the umbilical cord of intellectual life in Yampol took roots.

Chapter 6

Yampol Society

The Yampol Jews were divided into societies: 'society of caring for the sick,' 'burial society,' 'society for the needy,' 'society of the praying man.' The management of the society for the caring of the sick and the burial society was in the hands of two of the town's rich men. They did not let go of the reins of controlling the societies for two reasons: firstly, the societies brought in income because when someone passed away the first thing which had to be done was to pay for the burial place … and there was no actual price for the burial place. One asked for the place as much as it was possible to get for it. Once one received a permit from the sexton of the synagogue allowing the burial of the deceased, then one contacted the burial carriers … another source of a few rubles … for this reason it was important to control these two organizations To confuse the thought of the electorate of the community, the aforementioned controllers, on Simchat Torah, organized a party where cake, liquor and honey was consumed - as much as one's heart desired for whoever wanted it. Once everybody had their fill they obviously went to elect the same rich men …

The other societies barely made out … every member had to contribute a few kopeks which were supposed to pay for the administrative expense. They also had a Kiddush … which was taken from weekly contributions. The free loan society with the ten rubles of mandatory contribution from each member could help the most needy with a free loan to be repaid in installations. The loan was three times the membership fee i.e. thirty rubles. So the most one had to wait was until the money could be returned so a new loan could be taken out.

The Jewish Mayor in Yampol was in the hands of the town's rich men and all efforts were made to make sure that the Mayor was 'their man.'

The rabbi was hired with the agreement of the rich men.

Chapter 7

Yampol's Bathhouses

Believe it or not, Yampol did have a bathhouse and it looked as follows: by a stream (a small tributary of the wide Horin river) stood an old building. In the building, Dina the bathhouse lady sat … next to her lay “brushes made from oak” and everyone who barely made it to Friday gladly paid two kopeks for the brushes and walked into the second room … there on a cement floor sat naked Jews, with red bodies, breathing heavily. They just came out of the fire. From there the men ran through a corridor where on the right side were two large burning ovens, heating the walls of the bathhouse and the kettle full of water.

Twenty meters from the bathhouse, parallel to it, was the holy bathhouse. Outside, painted white, with two glass windows, inside a small home - on the right side a large room with six wooden beds, on the left a kitchen where the windows were boarded up.

A few sick people rested in the room. The sick were visited twice a week by a paramedic. The same arrangement was true for supplying food to the sick. This held true for many years, the same bathhouse, the same mikvah, the same sick house.

Chapter 8

The Sexton Wakes Up the Jews

In some of the towns surrounding Yampol, there was a tradition whereby every night, after midnight, after 2 a.m., the sexton used to walk the streets and woke up the Jews with a sad singing voice: “Israel, the holy people, wake up to work” and similar phrases which matched the first phrase … Yampol's sexton did not sing. Instead he used a wooden hammer to knock three times at the wooden window blinds of the homes. The first two knocks followed each other while the third one was after a pause … this event took place after every midnight. When it happened that someone in the town was “missing” (passed away) … in many homes the memorial candle was lit, and the man of the house washed his nails … then he went out into the street and listened to the two knocks which the sexton continued to make in the adjacent street. And when a door from a nearby house was opened with a screech, a question pierced the night: “who passed away?”

Chapter 9

Yampol Synagogue Goers

Young men and small children did not need the sexton to knock on the door … by habit, by inertia, they woke up after midnight and from time to time even before midnight, to go to the synagogue where they sang: “Oy, oy, oy, said our father! Oy, oy, oy, said the rabbi!” and with heartrending envy every one of the 'students' listened to the high pitched voices of their friend who brought to the light of the world the sweet melody.

The 'synagogue people' (people who studied in the synagogue) divided themselves into groups. The first group were the sons-in-law, the children of the rich father-in-law and mother-in-law. Their father bought them from purity, meaning that besides the dowry which was deposited with the town's rich man at two per cent interest a year, the father of the bride, now their father-in-law (the marriages were arranged at a very early age), was committed to fully support the son-in-law in the best of style for a good few years. On the other hand, the son-in-law was obligated to study until such time as he could get Smicha from the Alt-Kastantiner rabbi, or become a wise student of the Bible.

The second group were the young men who sat in the synagogue for a few years who were presented as a 'precious stone' to be caught by a young lady. The third group were students who just completed the Cheder, some of whom came because their father could not pay any more for the studies in the Cheder. They came to the synagogue to develop intellectually on their own.

Truly, the synagogue produced wise students and teachers, especially in the Talmud, Midrash and P'sukim. Besides the previously mentioned intellectuals, Alter r' David's and Yaacov Railes, there were two older synagogue people who are worth mentioning here. They were the first 'breakers of the fence' who pushed the youth in the direction of the light (intellectual freedom), secular knowledge. One was named Hershel from Moier (Garbarz), the second was Mosher Alter Student (Grynshpan). In addition to learning the Gemarah, they also studied other books. They learned math and algebra. They played an important role in our development. Hershel from Moier was murdered by the Nazis.* The synagogue people Hershel and Moshe were in hiding in the orchard. One was killed and the other wounded. Moshe eventually left to go to America where he is till this very day. Hershel read secular books and had a considerable influence on the young people of Yampol. The influence was so intense that many times the students used to hide secular reading materials between the pages of the interpretation of the bible.

*His influence was very good and positive. Every winter evening he had a custom of coming to the kloiz and studying the book, “Yad Chazakah” of Maimonides, as well as other philosophical works. He encouraged the boys of the kloiz to keep on studying.

Chapter 10

The Intellectual Period

In the year 1900, at the age of eighteen, a few youths celebrated the turn of the century. This was also the year we decided to establish a library. Together with a few of my friends, I organized a group responsible for the library. We sent away three rubles for a subscription to “Zargon” and a few other Yiddish books …

The first few Yiddish books we purchased were the foundation of the future “Hebrew library” and slowly the library began to develop. We gradually attracted readers and they brought in membership fees of five kopeks a week.

Our Hebrew library, as we called it, already had four hundred books, together with the Hebrew books. In our library we had the works David Frishman, selected works, David's memoirs. Jewish Youth from the surrounding towns came to take out books. The youth were also interested in the library's organization.

A few people in town who were envious of us worried about their youths who came over to our camp. They called for a general meeting where they accused us of creating the terrible situation and where this could lead the Jewish youth. With the approval of the people at the meeting it was decided to destroy the library.

Naturally we did not like the decision considering that the library was developed with so much effort … we had no other choice but to physically oppose the resolution.

However, this did not stop the few fanatics from their fight. It was on a nice day when we were ordered to appear before the local official. We had to go. In the office I met my friend Ezriel Peretz who was as white as the wall (he was also killed by Hitler.) Frightened, we looked at each other awaiting the unknown.

We did not say a word but our hearts were pounding. What could we do? We all thought we were lost!

Surprisingly, a prominent Jew of the community entered the office, one of the progressive ones who was opposed to the fanatics. So when the representative poured out his heart to the prominent Jew, how he had to fight with the Jewish socialists, the Jew asked him to step into another room and gave him a piece of his mind … and they let us go. However, he confiscated many books which were not even censored. As is known, every action causes a reaction. This happened in our situation. The organizers of the library and its members began to develop the library with newly found courage. At the beginning of the 20th century, the library contained 1,500 books.

Chapter 11

Yampol Jews Give Charity

I am doubtful whether you know the meaning of “half-big,” so let me tell you about it:

A long time ago, a really long time ago, the Russian ruble was changed into a bilan, which was made from brass or copper coins, starting with dyenichkas, groshes, kopeks -- 3 groshe coins and 2-, 3-, or 5-kopek coins. A ruble was exchanged for either 400 dyenichkas or 200 groshes, and also 100 kopeks for silver coins - 10- kopek coins, 20-kopek and 50-kopek coins. Yampol Jews, and possibly Jews in other cities, used to call a groshe in Hebrew a “big one” without noticing that the Hebrew “gadol” means “big.” The groshe was [on the contrary] in fact the smallest coin, just like in Hebrew a blind person is called “sagi nahor” which in Yiddish means “a person with enough light.” [Apparently there was a pun on the word groshe in relation to “groyse” - big in Yiddish - D.G.]

In general, when we realize that a “big one” means a groshe, it becomes as clear as day that the “half-big” means a half-groshe or a dyenechka which at the end of the 19th century were already out of circulation, and the Russian bilan was made up of groshes.

Now to the point:

Yampol Jews considered giving charity to be a very important thing, and had very straightforward ideas about this: “Eser” [10] was for wealth [“Ashir”]. “Give a ten-coin for an odd job, and you will become rich.” Also “charity saves one from death,” and “repentance, prayer and charity remove the evil decree” “charity annuls the evil decrees already issued.” The Yampol Jews would give a contribution to the poor with a pleasant demeanor and were therefore renowned as large philanthropists. Large groups of poor people used to flood the town and settle down in the synagogue to “sell their wares.” Right after the evening service the congregants, the people working for a living, used to “grab” home a guest. The housewife, the Jewish lady, would fill the table with delicacies: a bit of herring with a slice of onion on a cracker, accompanied with very sour vinegar with a couple of potatoes and bread. This was considered a meal made for a king.

In the morning, the poor folk would move out like a swarm of locusts in town. G-d knows the truth, that the largest part of Yampol Jews had no ability to provide contributions for all of the poor. Would anyone have dared to say that he didn't have the means and circumstances to help out? You had to contribute, you had to give!

For Yampol Jews, charity was the first priority. As religious Jews, they were motivated by sayings from the Bible such as: “Give a tenth of your earnings, so you will get rich,” “Charity will save you from death,” “Repentance, prayer and charity save you from bad decrees.”

The above reputation was well known to beggars and collectors who came to Yampol in numbers out of proportion to what might have been expected. Those out-of-towners used to come into the synagogue and after the evening prayers would spread out into all parts of Yampol where they were treated as guests by their hosts, the kind Jews of Yampol. Here, the compassionate housewives showed their kindness by treating their guests with the best food they had such as a piece of herring, some slices of onion dipped in sour vinegar, a few potatoes and bread. In the morning they would again fan out through the town for their collections. No Yampol Jew would ever say “I am unable to give you charity” though, in one day, you might have to face thirty to forty collectors, so it was not easy to keep up with the big charities.

The local currency was the ruble, which was subdivided into 100 kopeks, ending up with one kopek and one half kopek. The privileged collector had to be given 10 or 20 kopeks. In a case of assistance to a bride it meant having to give a larger amount of charity. For the financial conditions of Yampol Jews, charity became a sizeable part of their budget. When the Czar re-evaluated the currency, he eliminated the half kopek. This meant a special hardship for Yampol Jews, whose common alms were no more than half a kopek. An urgent emergency meeting was called at the synagogue trying to find a solution to the current coin change. The rabbi and representatives of the local grocers debated the problem and Reb Pesach Sofer came up with a practical solution. As there was no longer a brass or copper coin valued at half a kopek, he would prepare some small pieces of parchment which had written on them half kopek. These would be used by Yampol charity givers and later redeemed for actual money by the grocery man Pesach Sofer. This was a beneficent action for the giver as well as the taker, despite the fact that it included a small deduction which was given to Reb Pesach Sofer for his work.

Chapter 12

The Zionist Movement in Yampol

The young generation of Yampol Jew was well aware of the low standard lack of opportunities and the Czar's restrictions for Jewish trade, commerce and the professions. They felt discriminated against and deprived, downtrodden and humiliated, feelings rooted in anti-Semitism in Yampol. The prohibition of land ownership meant an unjustified denial, as well as a common accusation, of the Christian population calling them the 'people of the air.'

It was an embarrassing, degrading term. Some young people wanted to emigrate to Argentina where they became farmers and prided themselves in the use of the motto “In the plough lies the blessing.” No wonder the time was so ripe for Herzl's idea of a Jewish state. It acted as a beam of light for the dark, somber mood of the young Yampol Jews. It sounded great: Herzl planned to buy territory in Palestine from the Turks or establish an independent Jewish state in Uganda. What better hope for a brighter tomorrow could one have? The dream of independence was so powerful, it became ingrained in their minds, even if it might turn out to be self-deception. When Herzl's plan did not materialize, Yampol Jews sank into deep depression. Soon afterwards, the Russo-Japanese war broke out, which completely ended the Zionist's hope for an independent state. It is worth noting, however, that Yampol produced some Zionist writers whose ideas eventually penetrated into the USA, Argentina and Palestine.

When the news that Herzl passed away reached Yampol, the people got together in the large synagogue and mourned in great desperation. Fortunately the Hebrew teacher, Alter Rimel, gave an inspiring speech and made participants take it upon themselves to perpetuate the 'Zionist Ideal' and remain loyal to Zionism.

Chapter 13

The Water Carriers of Yampol

The elders from the last century claim that the monopoly of water carrying belonged to the old Abraham Ber. Not to say that he became wealthy by his profession, but it is a fact that you could make a living from it without the need for capital investment, or having to pay taxes. There is no doubt in anyone's mind that two rivers surrounding Yampol were at Abraham Ber's disposal and he did not need a license to use them in order to provide water for Yampol's Jews. His son, Shabse, was not too excited that he might inherit his father's profession. He was burdened by a large family consisting of his old father, Abraham Ber, his wife, two sons, two daughters and also Elinke (a diminutive of Elie.) The writer does not know if he was the father's brother or another son. Elie served in the Czar's army as a musician and brought home his clarinet. This gave Shabse the idea that he could also become a musician, a much more prestigious profession than a water carrier. The profession of his father slowly crept out of the family's monopoly.

Chapter 14

Yampol Gets its Own Music Group

Shabse's family had a spark igniting within for him to become a musician. The talent was actually inherited from his father, the old Abraham Ber. In addition to his work as a water-carrier, he owned a drum and was proud to play on it. When Elie came home from the army with a clarinet, it whetted Shabse's appetite to become part of an orchestra, head by Elie. They formed an orchestra consisting of two drummers and one clarinet, which was favorably accepted by the Yampol community. It was certainly cheaper to hire them than to bring an orchestra from another town. They played at weddings and at the time somebody gave a Sefer Torah to a synagogue. When young people made a gathering they were happy to have Elie's orchestra playing for them.

The Shabse family now made a better living than others. Earnings came from water-carrying, fishing and musical performances. Elie was an ambitious and capable man. He made some money by playing in private homes on Purim, getting paid ten to twenty kopeks, sometimes even a whole ruble. It was too good to be true. Only good for as long as it lasted. Unexpectedly, he ran out of luck. A cholera epidemic broke out in the town and all the good things Shabse's family had enjoyed came to an end.

Chapter 15

A Wedding at the Cemetery

“You will certainly ask 'what the connection is between a wedding canopy (chuppah) over a cemetery and the Yampol water carriers?'”

The cholera epidemic was very severe. There were casualties in every house. The sanitary committee's recommendations were to smear the walls of every house with whitewash and to pour carbolic acid on the garbage, to boil their water and to have young children recite special prayers. It was all to no avail. A special meeting was called and the following decision was made: “The town would arrange for the marriage of a poor spinster, the ceremony to take place at the local cemetery.” This would be the remedy to stop the epidemic. They found the proper 'old maid' in Yampol. The town's 'son-in-law' was located and imported from Wishegrod. The conditions were that the town's Jews had to provide him with a place to live and an occupation by which he could make a living. The occupation to be provided - water carrier thereby becoming severe competition for the Shabse family! A second 'competitor' for Pinchas, the new husband, was Berel, the water-carrier. Some people who lived close to the river were of the idea that they could provide themselves with pails of water, without having to have it delivered.

Elie was a privileged person - having served in the Czar's army he had a license to open a store of alcoholic beverages or to become a letter carrier. But those permits had no value for Elie. The whole of his family were illiterate. That is they could not write or master basic arithmetic. Elie found out that the public baths needed an attendant, applied for the position and got it. It was a good source of income, at least for the next few years. But an ardent anti-Semite had his eyes on the position. With the help of the local priest, he kept on denouncing Elie, accusing him of violations in the upkeep of the public bath. Many inspections were made without any fault being found. The nationalistic Russian Party spouted propaganda: “Beat up the Jews”, “'Take away their stores”, “Expel them from the village” etc. Thus Jewish life became precarious, completely unprotected by the government. At that time there befell a great tragedy on the Shabse family. Antashke Roshkolnik very much wanted Elie's position. So much so that he came to the public bath, asked for a bunch of leaves to be used there and refused to pay for it. An argument ensued and the instigator then threw Elie into the boiling water causing his instant death.

The Abraham Ber 'dynasty' lost its breadwinner and Yampol had an omen of that which might befall them in their lives in the future.


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