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[Page 258]

Horodnitza
(Horodnytsya'k, Ukraine)

50°48' 27°19'

B. V.

Translated by Dr. Mark Kowitt

The shtetl was situated on the Slutz (Sluch) River 35 km (25 miles) from the district [capital] Zvhil (Novograd–Volynsk), surrounded on [the other] three sides by large forests. Its inhabitants before the First World War numbered about 600 families. Of these families, around 350 made their living from their work as laborers or clerks in Zussman's porcelain goods factory that used to exist in the shtetl. There were also a number of shopkeepers, artisans, and merchants, particularly lumber and wood merchants, whose livelihood also depended on the factory and its workers. Among them were a number of wealthy families.

The Jews of the shtetl were mainly Hassidim, observant Jews and Torah scholars. Most of the adults worked or dabbled in business. There was a significant number of “enlightened” Jews, readers of books and newspapers in Hebrew and Russian. The religious were not fanatical types and dealt patiently with the enlightened and free thinkers. There were 5 synagogues and houses of prayer in the shtetl and one Hassidic beit midrash [“kloiz”].

Until the year 1905 [5665] there was no Zionist organization or union in Horodnitza; even so, there were Jews who were proponents of the idea of “Love of Zion”[1] and paid 3 rubles a year – membership dues for the Odessa Committee – and bought shares of the Colonial Bank and contributed toward the [Jewish] settlement in the land of Israel in collection bowls [plates set up for charity] on Yom Kippur eve. These activities were carried out at the initiative and under the supervision of Mr. Hirschhorn, the Rabbi of the neighboring shtetl of Koretz. He would come to the shtetl [Horodnitza] once or twice a year in the course of his work and took the opportunity to elicit contributions for Hibat Zion (Chovevei Zion).

Once in a while, speakers would visit the shtetl and lecture on Zionism; they would appear in the great synagogue, but never managed to inspire any organized Zionist action. The impression is preserved in my memory since childhood, left in the wake of a lecturer like that eulogizing Rabbi Shmuel Mohilever, Z”L[2], in a synagogue full to overflowing. All present at the time sat on the floor, shoeless in mourning for a rabbi and genius of Israel, one of the heads of the Zionist movement [first leader of the Mizrachi (religious Zionist) movement].

The first Zionist union, called “Herzl”, was founded on 20 Tammuz 5665 [1905] by six young men 16–17 years old. The number of members continued to grow, and in a short time exceeded 100, among them many workers who were disappointed with the first revolution and had left the “Bund”.

The activity of the Bund in our area preceded by a bit the organized Zionist work. That union [the Bund] invested considerable effort in organizing the movement among workers and almost every week an emissary [shaliach] from their central institutions would visit the shtetl and organize assemblies in the forests surrounding the shtetl. To those gatherings streamed young workers who were in the shtetl, among them also members of our Zionist Union. However, only very infrequently would one of our members be permitted to get involved in the discussion in their assembly. Most of the time they wouldn't even let us get close to the location of the gathering. We had a serious struggle with the Bund until finally we were victorious and after 2–3 years, they only had a few zealots left. The Zionists controlled the Jewish public in the shtetl until the outbreak of the second [Bolshevik] revolution in 1917. The Zionists established a public library, the “Reformed Cheder”, where they taught Hebrew, arithmetic, and Russian, established and perfected institutions for charity and support, such as: Linat HaTzedek[4] and help for the sick, an institution to help with food and heating needs, etc. The people of the shtetl, most of whom were working people who barely made enough to feed themselves, were quite aware of all sources of charity and aid, not only for the needs of the shtetl itself but also for the yeshivot and public institutions in Greater Russia and institutions of the old settlement[3] in Israel.

The Zionist Union included a fair number of dedicated Zionist workers. Most of them left the shtetl afterwards, once it had passed to the Soviet side, and continued their work in “Congress Poland” (an entity carved out of the Duchy of Warsaw in the 19th century). A number of activists continued to do Zionist work, especially in the area of Hebrew culture in the shtetl, even “underground” under Soviet rule; two of them were exiled to Siberia because of their Zionist and cultural activities.

Several beloved figures from the shtetl should be noted:

  1. The teacher (“melamed”) Rabbi Wolf Donder – established a generation of enlightened Hebrews (Hebraists) and Zionists. His father was a butcher, a simple and charitable Jew. He didn't give his sons any special education, and when they grew up, they helped him in the slaughterhouse and the butcher shop. The aforementioned Wolf Leib was the exception. Not only was he an expert in Gemara, Commentaries (esp. Rashi), and Tosefot (additional commentaries on the Talmud) – or Gemara, Commentators, and Tanakh (Old Testament) – possible translations of גפי”ת – and Talmudic literature, he was also captivated by the Enlightenment (Haskalah) and learned in depth Tanakh, Hebrew, and the new literature and also Russian. He would from time to time write articles and letters from the shtetl in “Ha–Melitz” and “Ha–Tsfira”[5] signed with the pseudonym “Ner David” (David's Candle). We considered him the father of the Zionist movement and action in the shtetl. Because of his status as a teacher, he wasn't officially considered a Zionist, but he educated his pupils, especially in Tanakh and Jewish history lessons, with the spirit of Zionism and nationalism. His income was meager, but he was always cheerful and satisfied with his lot. He related to his students as an older friend and helped them with his advice and guidance, and his connection with them continued for many years, long after they left the confines of the “cheder” (classroom) and even the shtetl.
  2. Rabbi Yishayahu Dov z”l – the gabbai (treasurer, assistant, director of action surrounding the Torah reading) of the great synagogue; he was a type of businessman of the older generation, a master among his people and cogent in his opinions. His home was always open to anyone in need, though he himself was not wealthy. People from the shtetl would turn to him to seek advice and guidance. He was influential not only within the Jewish community, but also among the powerful in the shtetl and the district. He often acted to cancel or mitigate decrees against Jews in the days of the Russian Czar's regime and also in the days of the Ukrainian authorities afterwards. This Jew wanted to build a great and beautiful synagogue and dedicated to this goal many years of his life until he erected a great and beautiful synagogue in the center of the city that cost tens of thousands of rubles. No one knew where he acquired such enormous sums to build the synagogue. He was also always seeing to improvements [of the building].
    When Horodnitza became part of Soviet Ukraine and the “Yevseks”[6] began to take charge of Jewish matters, they began to ban houses of prayer in the shtetl except for the great synagogue, after Rabbi Dov of blessed memory opposed it forcefully. Sometimes he was able to negate the decree with the local authorities, and if he couldn't get their help, that seventy–year–old wouldn't be silent, nor would he rest, and despite the chaotic condition of the roads he traveled a number of times to Kharkov and presented his petitions against the Yevseksia (the section of the Party that the Yevseks belonged to) before the highest authority in the land, the Cheka (the first Soviet security organization), and managed several times to negate the decree to shut down the great synagogue. Sometime later, someone informed on (slandered?) his son–in–law that he was a Zionist, and the latter was exiled to Siberia. Finally the Yevseks succeeded in shutting down the only synagogue remaining in the shtetl and turned it into a storehouse for grain. Out of sadness and pain Rabbi Yishayahu left the shtetl, old and depressed, and moved to Zhitomir and died there after a few years lonely and bereft.
  3. Rabbi Ephraim Kuperstein, manager of the factory, a well–educated Jew, enlightened and skilled at languages: Russian, French, German, etc. He was the son–in–law of the genius (Gaon) Rabbi Shlomo Bolchover z”l. He was the manager of the great factory and, as he would say, he would be heeded and obeyed not only by the Jewish and Ukrainian workers but also by anyone who met him, both in business and any other matters. Everyone honored and admired him for his honesty and his courageous behavior. His hand was open both for the needs of the community and for charity, and all the famous people who came to the shtetl would show up early at the door of his modest apartment on the grounds of the factory. In his hands people of the shtetl and the surrounding area would deposit their savings with an ordinary receipt, since he took care to sign the documents and was the most reliable person around.
For 20 years of Soviet rule, until the last war, the Jewish settlement grew in the shtetl because it was located on the border, and there were concentrated many institutions and government offices. The government also improved the factory which it had nationalized and made use of the surrounding forests for building materials for factories in Ukraine. These projects served as a source of income for many hundreds of additional Jewish families, and the number of Jews increased by a factor of 3–4 compared to their number in 1914.

With the invasion of Hitler's soldiers into Soviet Ukraine, the lease also expired for the Jewish settlement in Horodnitza, which was destroyed in its entirety, and according to news that arrived [in Palestine] none survived after the Germans left except for 3 Jews.


Translator's footnotes

  1. Hibat Tsion – umbrella organization for Zionist causes in Eastern Europe from the late 19th century to encourage settlement in Palestine Return
  2. Of blessed memory; see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samuel_Mohilever Return
  3. “Old Yishuv”; see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Yishuv Return
  4. Food, clothing, and housing for orphans Return
  5. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ha–Melitz and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ha–Tsfira Return
  6. Secularist internationalist Jewish section of the Soviet Communist Party; see http://www.starrepublic.org/encyclopedia/wikipedia/y/ye/yevsektsiya.html Return

 

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