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[Page 13]

A. Introduction to the city

 

Zhvil – Novohrad Volynski

Azriel Uri of Ramat Gan

Translated by Jerrold Landau

As I remember the city of Zhvil, where I was born and took my first steps to greet the wide world, my spirit pines: Splendid landscapes, the Sluch River winding through its channels between mountains covered with groves, the wide bridge leading to these groves, and the large forest spreading out northward from the city until the courtyard of the count–duke, the forest in which we strolled during our youth –– all come to my memory. I recall its Hassidic personalities, its noble and humble peoples, its few maskilim who attempted to free themselves from the fetters of the surroundings, the small group of active Zionists who still absorbed the influence from the Fierberg group, and the masses of simple folk who toiled and worked, whose joy in life was expressed in their pure deeds and whose imparted so much splendor to their environment.

Let us discuss several sections of the annals of our city, its communal life and personalities. The members of the coming generation should understand and learn how to draw hidden strength of spirit from the wellspring from which they were forged.

 

Annals

According to the information in our hands, there are no reliable sources about the ancient times of the city. According to the General Russian Encyclopedia (published by Brokhaus–Efron 1897, volume 21, page 365) the city of Zhvil is mentioned for the first time in Slavic historical documents in 1257. At that time, the city belonged to the WEodzimierz WolyEski (Volodymyr Volinski) Polish Duchy. The princes Wasyly and Andzrej Semonowicz were known as the princes (knioz) of Zhvil. After their deaths, Prince Konstantin Ostrowzski ruled of the city. The city belonged to the District (Powiat) of Luck (Lutzk) until the conquest of the city by the Russians in 1793. It became a district city when it was annexed to Russia, and turned into a regional city in 1804. According to Polish sources[1], the town of Zhvil belonged to the Polish prince Wasyly during the 14th century, and was later taken over by the Prince Andrzej Zwiagelski. From that time, it was called by his name. He bequeathed the town to Hetman Konstantin Ostrowzski, who bequeathed it after his death to Prince Lyubomirski. The town, which grew in the interim, was included in the Luck District (Powiat) until the Russian conquest of Wolhyn. Its name was changed after it was annexed to Russia during the time of Catherine the Great in 1796. It was then called Novohrad–Volinski, and was declared a district city.

Due to the lack of official documents, we cannot determine exactly when the Jewish community was established in that city. It is not mentioned among the towns of the area in the lists of the disturbances of Tach–VeTat (1648–49)[2]. However, from this fact, we cannot state that there were no Jews there at all. According to tradition, the Jews of Zhvil escaped to the fortress in the nearby town of Polna, where they were killed among the myriads of Jews murdered by the Haidamaks[3] under the command of Hetman Kryvonos. According to the details mentioned in the story of P. N. Batyushkov[4][5], this Hetman attacked the city of Zhwil with some of his troops after the slaughter in the fortress. He murdered its Jews and destroyed it completely. The destruction of this city was so great, that even 117 years later, in 1765, there were only 567 taxpayers there, including 474 Jews. The general population was 2,304 citizens at that time, including 1,752 Jews. During those years, a trial took place against the Jewish communities in the Wolhyn region regarding the taxes to the duke. Jews of Zhvil are also mentioned[6] in a document attached to the

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edict of the general ruler as a response to the complaint of the communities about the magnitude of the taxes, in which he commanded a seizure of communal property until the completion of the payment. According to the ledger, a copy of this edict can be found in the national library in Jerusalem.

According to tradition, it seems that the city began to be built on the slope next to the Sluch River. All crossings took place over the river crossing that extended from one bank to the other. Working people who served the nearby villages first began to settle in that area. As the population grew, the groves in the region were cut down and other sections of the city were built. The straight, wide boulevards for which are city was known were built according to plan.

The large fairs that convened several times a year and brought in merchandise from the district greatly helped the development of the city. In 1855, the city had a population of 7,514, living in 700 houses. The residents played an important economic role in the city and the district, as they did throughout Wolhynia. They developed advanced manufacturing. All the agricultural and civic manufactured goods were manufactured by their hands[7].

The Great Synagogue in the city excelled in its beauty. It was built in a unique style. High pillars supported the blue dome, from which sparkling stars glowed: pictures of the constellations and symbolic images of the symbols of the tribes of Israel surrounded the convex dome of the building. This was one of the oldest and most splendid buildings in the city. The time of its building is believed to be between 5440–5460 (1680–1700). On one of the corners under the ceiling, among the pictures of landscapes, there was a picture of a man fishing. There was a legend in the city that this was a picture of the artist who painted the synagogue, and he became disoriented after he had finished his artwork. He let go of the ropes to which he was tied, and fell to his death. This was seen as a punishment for transgressing the sin of “Though shalt not make any statue” after he painted his portrait in the synagogue. This holy place, as well as old isolated monuments in the old cemetery, testify that there was an important community there for many centuries. In the old ledger of Ostra from the year 5498 (1737–1738), the rabbi of Zhvil, Rabbi Avraham of blessed memory, the grandson of the captain of Reb Jozpa of Ostra, is mentioned. He was one of the great rabbis of his generation. He died in 5522 – 1762 and was buried in Ostra. (“Memorial to the Greats of Ostra” by M. Biber).

At the beginning of the “Goral Yehoshua” book (published in Zolkowo, 5513 – 1753) many Torah novella from the Rabbi and Gaon Rabbi Avraham, head of the rabbinical court of Zhvil, are included. His gravestone stands in the same row as the gravestone of his grandfather, the philanthropic captain Reb Jozpa. The following is engraved on his gravestone: Here lies the morning star[8], from the womb raised as a chosen one of G–d, chosen from the congregation, and this is the way it was, Avraham was a great, honorable rabbi. Our rabbi and teacher, Rabbi Avraham, who was the head of the rabbinical court in Zhvil, the son of our rabbi and teacher Rabbi Aharon of holy blessed memory. Died on Wednesday, 8 Iyar, 5522 – 1762.


Translator's footnotes

  1. There is a text footnote here, as follows; Slownik geograficzeski krolewsiwo Polckiego – Warszawa Tom I. Return
  2. Chmielnicki uprising. Return
  3. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haidamaka Return
  4. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Konstantin_Batyushkov Return
  5. There is a footnote in the text here in Cyrillic script:
    П. Н. Батюшков, Волынь, Историческне судьбы югоэападного края, стр 170. Return
  6. There is a footnote in the text here, as follows: The ledgers of the Council of the Four Lands – section 40, number 1, attached to entry 5643. Return
  7. There is a footnote in the text here, as follows: B. A. Arshawsky – An article about the economic situation in Zhvil and its district, Rassvet, 1860, issue 8. Return
  8. The term here is “Helel ben Shachar”, an obscure term from Isaiah 14:12, made famous in Christian thought by its Latin translation Lucifer (which means “bearer of light”) but completely devoid of any of the connotations attributed to the term by Christianity. On the gravestone, it would have the implication of “brilliant luminary.” Return

 

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