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Zvhil (Novograd-Volynsk)

by Y. Uri

Translated by Tina Lunson

When I recall my birth place Zvhil, where I took my first steps into the big world – it evokes a great longing for its lovely natural scenes on both sides of the River Slutsh, which snaked through the hilly shores and rustling forests where we spent our youth frolicking, on secret walks, group meetings with their heated discussions that never ended. Even more, for the hasidic circles with their strange qualities, Shabes-yontiv Jews full of enthusiasm, modesty and charity; its “enlightened” groups that dreamed and pulled toward the larger world with which they were enchanted; the Zionist sect that was still suckling from the small Fireberg groups. And still more, the folk-personalities among the simple ordinary Jews, always laboring, plagued – whose inner beauty the whole region was known for. I am moved to mention them if only in the most general terms. It is important not only for them, but also for us and for the forthcoming generations. The number of children who spent their childhood and youthful years with them grows smaller, and there is a danger that their memory will be completely extinguished.



According to the chronicles that we possess, there is not any detailed source for the age of the town. According to the Russian encyclopedia (publisher Brokhoyz-Efron 1897, volume 21, page 364) the town Zvhil was first mentioned in the Slavic “Letopisn” in the year 1257. The town then belonged to the Polish prince Vladimir Volinsk's princedom. In the 15th century it was ruled by Princes Vasily and Andrey Simunubits, who were called “the Princes of Zvhil”. After their deaths Prince Konstantin Ustruzski ruled over it. Until the victory of the Russians in 1793 and the assumption of Volin to the Russian government, the town belonged to Lutsker Poviat. From then on Zvhil was a provincial capitol and only in 1804 did it become a district capitol. According to Polish historical sources the village of Zvhil belonged to Prince Bazili in the 14th century and after then was ruled by Prince Andrey Zviagelski and came to be called by his name. He turned it over to his hetman Konstantin Ustrozski. After his death the village was inherited by Prince Liubamirski and belonged – until the Russian

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attack in Yekaterina's time – to Lutsker Poviat. With the Russian victory in 1796 the name was changed to Novograd-Volinsk and it became a district town. (Slovik Geografitshiski Korolevstvo Polskega. Warsaw, Vol. 7)

Because we do not possess any official documents we cannot precisely determine the time of the founding of the Jewish community in Zvhil. From the fact that is it not mentioned in the list of towns that suffered from the Chmelnitski massacres (1648-1649) is not to indicate that there were no Jews there during that time. It has been recorded that at the time the Jews of Zvhil fled to the nearby Poloneer fortress and there were murdered along with the tens of thousands of Jews who were killed by the Haidamaks under the leadership of Ataman Krivanos.

According to details mentioned in a book by F. N. Batushkov* after the slaughter in the fortress, Ataman Krivanos and some of his military attacked Zvhil, murdered the Jews they found there and ransacked the town. The destruction was so great that even 117 years later, in 1765, there were only 567 tax-payers there, among them 474 Jews. In those years there was a big court case against the Jewish communities in the Volin area about taxes paid to the prince. The list that accompanies the sovereign's decree after the judgment also mentions Zvhil Jews (Pinkes of the Lands Siman m' 1). There is a copy of the of the announcement in the Jewish community register after the reckoning, in the national library in Jerusalem.

The town began to build itself up on the lower side, according to narratives from the times. In that time, all the connections from both sides of the Slutsh were carried over a bridge. Earlier, the workers who went out to work in the surrounding villages were concentrated there. With the enlargement of the population, people gradually cleared the forests on the right side of the Slutsh and built larger parts of town, wide straight streets and handsome houses for which our town was distinguished.

Fairs were organized in town during the period of the standstill, and were held several times a year. That trade helped the development of the town and in 1855 there were already 7,514 citizens and 700 houses. The correspondence from Zvhil that was printed in 1860 in the Jewish-Russian newspaper “Razsviet”, noted the large dominating role that Jews had played in every area of economic life. In the census of 1897 there were 9,378 Jews and 7,536 non-Jews.

The large shul was distinguished by its particular style and beauty – high columns that supported the sky-blue cupola onto which twinkling stars were sprinkled. The shul was one of the oldest and most beautiful buildings in town. It was built, they reckon, in about 1680 to 1700 (sav-mem – sav-samekh). Among the depictions of the zodiacal signs was a picture of a man catching fish, and I

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remember the legend that tells that it is an image by a painter who painted the shul, and that he so exhausted himself finishing the painting that he became muddled and fell from the scaffold to which he was tied and was killed. The congregation saw that as God's punishment for the sin of painting an image of human being in a holy shul.

The shul as well as a few old tombstones in the old cemetery show that there was already an old, respectable Jewish community there. The old pinkes from Ustra, from 1737-1738 (sav-tsadi-hey), tells of the Zvhil Rov Avrom of blessed memory, a grandson of Reb Yozeyfa, the elected head of the Jewish community of Ustra, He was one of the great rabbis of his time. He died in 1762 (sav-kuf-khof-beys) in Ustra.


The Resistance to Hasidism

With the revelation of the BeShT [Bal Shem Tov, R” Yisroel ben Eliezer, 1698-1760, founder of modern Hasidism. Trans.] and his great pupils who grew and lived in the area of our town and in the surrounding villages – the Mezritsh Magid (1704-1773, sav-pey-daled–sav-kuf-lamed-giml) and his son Reb Avrom Meylakh, and the deep commentator of hasidus Reb Yankev Yosef of Pulna (known as the yud-yud-beys-yud for Yankev Yosef ben Yisroel), the author of “Toldos” which brought about the strong opposition of the Vilna goan and his ban on hasidus (1786, sav-kuf-mem-hey). At that same time there was the mukhiakh – Reb Yehuda Leyb from Pulna. Even earlier, in the time of the BeShT, there was Reb Pinkhes, himself from Shklov, but he settled and lived in Korets and from then on called himself Reb Pinkhes Koretser. Soon after him came Reb Zusye Anapoler – for the little towns around Zvhil. Their influence was very great on our town too, which was their natural center. Then two printing presses also came into existence: one in Korets in which the first manuscripts of the of the Meziritsher Magid were printed; and the second was a larger one, in Polane, in which many Hasidic manuscripts were printed and especially “Toldos”. These two printing presses existed before the two big, well-known presses later established in Zshitomer and Slavite.

Settling in our town at around that time was one of the five sons of Reb Yekhiel Mikhal Zlotshever – a pupil of the BeShT, whose children were called “the five books of the Torah” – Reb Meyshele, who received the title “Preacher” for the town and its environs. He founded the so-called “Zvhil dynasty” in town. There was also a group of saintly men in town known as the “Khavria” about whom many lovely legends circulate.

The development of hasidus and the effect of the “Khavria”, the eminent men who lived in the area, brought the fire and enthusiasm of Hasidism to the town and to the environs and did not allow much opportunity for the influence of the haskole Enlighteners, except those who were at that time in the nearby environment, in Kremenets, the great RIB”L (Rov Itsik Ber Levinzon) and also after that the haskole group that was concentrated around the rabbinic and teacher seminary in Zshitomir (1848–1870), in which there were such effective personalities as Aykhendorf,

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חצ"ל, חז"ס A. B. Gotlober and Reb Eliezer Tsveyfl

The haskole or enlightenment movement did not yet have any deep roots in the town. Hasidic life-style affected the greater part of the town, and there was great joy and enthusiasm in their meetings when the rebi visited the town.

The Talner shulkhl where my father prayed was small and low. It was in the lower part of the large study-house and was not noted for the spaciousness, but for its warm enthusiasm and Hasidic mystical ecstasy, which he had in great measure. I still remember the joint gathering on shabes night for the “third meal”. When we were all seated in the dusk in a twilight ambience with the poor feast that we had brought from home, we listened in a brotherly way to the accompaniment of quiet, heart-felt, wordless melodies, or to the stories of everyone's beloved old Reb Dovid Pinies (A. Ludoyful's uncle) about the older Hasidim who were still sitting at the table of the elder Dovidl Talner. He used to enchant everyone with his wonderful stories about the great rabbis, founders of the Hasidic dynasties, and leading up to the big dispute that broke out with the Vilna goen and which brought about huge acts of persecution; and of Reb Shneyor Zalman of Liadi in the Shlislberg fortress. What especially captured our hearts were the stories that happened to the elder Talner Hasidim soon after the departure of Reb Dovidl. They – the old Hasidim who had gone through all those years with the old one – could not so easily manage to exchange him for the grandson who was then still a sort of “suckling”. They began to search for another leader among the great saints of that period. Several older Hasidim from Zvhil took part in the search, among them my grandfather Reb Avrom and uncle Reb Mendl of Ratshev. They visited the courts of the old saints – the children of Reb Nakhumtsi Tshernobiler, and extended to the saints of Galicia and could not quiet their longing for a great leader. They resigned to stay with the old dynasty under the leadership of the grandson. From then on however they ceased traveling to Talne for the holidays and waited for him to come to them in Zvhil.

All those stories that were given over with a special inspiration were then accompanied by heartfelt melodies that were still being sung at Reb Dovidl's table by his own table-singer Reb Yosl. Once he told about how the old Reb Yerukhim, the eminent town cantor in Barditshev, visited Zvhil and was praying in the Talner shul. During his impassioned prayers he became hoarse and suddenly lost his voice and broke out with a big moan. The whole congregation went through the prayer with him. Such a heart-felt attitude dominated in our little Talner sulkhl.

That singing is not heard only by the Talne Jews, but also by the Trisk and especially by the Stolin-Karlin Hasidim in the melodies for “Ya akosef” and “Ya ribon oylem”. To this day the stormy sounds are still with me, those Friday and third-meal melodies that so enchanted and brought a fresh spirit and courage for everyone to carry over to the other days of the week.

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Among the elder Talne Hasidim who left a strong impression it is worthwhile to characterize the old judge Reb Alter, who was a great Torah scholar and possessed tender qualities. He was treasured in all circles and also Reb Avrom Ber, himself of the Hasidic dynasty that had us all bewitched by its enthusiasm and devotion.

In those days we had the important Rov Meyshe Shmuel, a great Torah scholar and author of several religious books and who was on intimate terms with the learned rabbis of the world and had a strong influence on the town. There was also the Rov Simkhe Kupshtik – author of a number of religious books – who was known in the rabbinic world as “the rabbi from Zvhil”. They both were with us from the first “Hoveyvi tsien”. Reb Simkhe Kupshtik was in touch with the rabonim Shleyme Kluger from Brody and Shmuel Mohilever, and fought for the use of esrogim [citrons for Sukes] from Erets yisroel as against those from Corfu.


Fayerberg and His Group

The spirit of history found a strong and vivid expression in the young poet M. Z. Fayerberg, who grew up out of deep concealment in hasidus and through his publications brought a change to Hebrew literature. Only one from such a source of deep longing and great spirituality, could develop such a soulful writer, who so deeply expressed his sadness at the “disappearance of the presence of God”. Until him, no one among the pious Jews had sung with such a tenor of love and pathos about the greatness of “kidesh ha'shem [martyrdom]. For him, the old Jewry that had detached itself from all the riches and pleasures of this world did not represent a life path for a persecuted people, but a self-offering for that place in life. He demanded that the young fulfill the holy obligation – as cheerful, intellectual guardians – to protect the Jewish spire that was now inclined to collapse. This powerful hymn of life rang in all the tender tones of his song and he called the youth to boldness, audacity and battle for the glorious sunset in the west.

“He” – who had hardly ever stepped outside his little town – spoke with clarity and certainty about “Europeanism” at the time when the seedlings of the Berditshevsky and Ornprayz circles were impetuously straining to break the borders, and dreamed of the “blind beast” and Nietzsche's “uber mentsch” and European modernism. And if not for Z. Shneour's powerful poem about the “nearing arrival of the middle ages” – he claimed that “Europe is now sick, everyone feels her sinking. Her small prophets who stand up for her strengthen her for a little while, but she does not have any great prophet who can shake her and give her the energy to create new values: help for us as a people and as humans will come from the East.”

At that time when Europe was drunk with her own happiness and the Jewish youth streamed to warm themselves in her light, he called out in his article “About the lovely literature”: The greatest enemy is Western Europeanism,

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and the Jewish people must return to their land, not only to outrun hunger and want but in order to lay a firm foundation there for a new life and an exemplary society as was the old society of one-time Judaism”. And he threw out to the youth – even before the idea of “khalutsim” [pioneers] was invented – the slogan: “Turn to the East, and there be an avant garde of the Jewish revival”, and “When you come here do not come with hate, but with an inner love and as devoted children, to revitalize it and not, heaven forbid, to pull it down.”

It is a wonder how such a young, dreamy poet, at the age of 22 or 23, captured this in advance of his generation and gave such sharp, precise expression to the reawakening energy of youth in the folk and spoke with such power for the rousing of pioneering and valor in Yisroel. And he took on, fifty years early, the problems that we have not yet resolved. For us his call is now still the loudest reverberation. His slender book is still today the “book of the generation” which we must delve deeply into.

The effect of Fayererg and his group in those last years was huge, because they managed to arouse disputes with their opponents and affect the youth circles. Numerous legends were created because of them and their battles. More than once they were driven out of the study-houses where they held their “abominable” meetings and conducted their agitation, and had their books burned. Those wars pressed on them but did not diminish their spirit. But they did worsen the health of the young Fayerberg, who was not strong physically, and shortened his life. I still remember the stories about his funeral that made such a powerful impression on me as a child: a funeral on an autumn night in a driving rain with masses of youth and intellectuals taking part. It was the first vehement manifestation in town, the promise of the greater revolutionary manifestations that were later renewed in the town.

In his last years he and his group forged a relationship with the literary center in Odessa, particularly with Ekhad-ha'am. At the time the group included: Sh. Ts. Zetser, A. Tsheskes, Ezra Brokhman, Yehoshe Eydlman, Sh. Finkl, A. Arbetman, Z. Berul and Itsik Biber.

The awakening of Zionism began shortly after his death and the vivacious work after the second All-Russian Conference in Minsk, in which some of those mentioned participated. Around that time the group, then headed by Sh. Finkl who was also the representative of the group “Spreaders of Enlightenment”, established a library with a beautiful reading room. Groups of many hues, all fighting for control, used the library facility for meetings. Their yearly conferences were tempestuous and often extended over several evenings. The first revised library was founded in those days by Y.Y. Vahl and the ambitious Zionist activist A. Arbetman and Y. Gilberg, where all the classes were conducted in Hebrew. The founding of the

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library brought about a sharp offensive from the orthodox circles and because of that a struggle for control of the oversight of the local Talmud-Torah began, which under the khareydim had no pedagogical oversight.

Then the above-mentioned group brought the famous pedagogue Dr. N. Turov to Zvhil, who visited the “Spreaders of Enlightenment” schools. Dr. Turov was one of the well-known Erets yisroel pedagogues, one of the editors of the journal “Ha'khinukh”. The appearance of such an elegant personality made a big sensation in the town. I recall the intimate gatherings that were organized in various social circles and his appearance at the open meeting that was arranged by the library, where he refereed the cultural resistance and the educational tasks of the generation, and also described the new life in Erets yisroel.

During that time too the Zionist folk-orators used to visit the town, and enchant the audience with their flowery language and wordless melodies. I recall from my childhood the strong impression that the visit of an orator (whose name I cannot remember, unfortunately) left on me; he spoke for several consecutive nights in the Tshernobile shul. Large crowds, in the thousands, would come to hear him and later spread his speeches and melodies with much enthusiasm.


The First Russian Revolution

The social movement sharpened with the first steps of the revolution at the end of the Japanese War. At the beginning of 1904 a worker in a seltzer factory met his death when a gas canister exploded accidentally. The accident agitated a lot of workers who were concentrated around the [Jewish Labor] “Bund”. Two thousand workers attended the funeral. It was carried out without any excesses because the police did not yet know how to govern such a situation. Then the “political exchanges” began to function, which drew masses of workers and youths who did not have any other place to meet. At first the police could not touch them. The exchanges of a few parties had been on the avenues of the city park, but later the Bund exchange was stationed at the beginning of Zshitomir Street at the site of the town library and the S. R. exchange on Gutinske, at the Tshernobil shul. The Zionist groups did not have any new young members at the time and of the older members there were only the few who dared to meet with their opponents at the exchanges. One of those was the intellectual and always faithful member A. Arbetman. He had a small paper workshop. He himself always worked very hard to make some kind of profit to support his large family. He was an intellectual Jew with deep erudition in the old and new literatures.

That was the first appearance of the “Bund” among the workers in the

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small workshops. At first the “Bund” began to infiltrate the nearby factory towns of Kamenebrod, Polona and Horodnitse where Susman's huge porcelain factory was, and where hundreds of Jews worked. Later, in the evolution of the revolution the “Bund” infiltrated us under the leadership of Yosef and Leye Tsheskis, P. Kats, Itsik Goldman, Menashe Segal and the chair-makers Avrom'tshik and Anshel and his sister. The leaders in Zvhil were particularly effective: Yehoshe Eydlman, Ezra Brokhman and Itsik Shlain. They were often visited by orators from the larger towns, among them Meyshe Olgin-Novomayski – who was educated in the neighboring town of Ratshev and before long threw off his Zionist garb as a great devotee of Hebrew and moved over to the “Bund”. Also joining was Dr. Targovets, who distinguished himself by his goodness as a faithful doctor of the folk. His house was always open for any embittered, underprivileged person and he was loved by all who knew him. He was a devoted Zionist activist who changed over at the beginning of the revolution; and also Dr. Ostrovski who was a general social-democrat, a consistent assimilator and a devoted, loyal activist in various social and cultural areas.

The socialist revolutionary circles were more folk-minded and intellectual and were closer to our young Zionist circles. Some of the socialist revolutionary leaders were Nusye Kaplan – a son of an intellectual, well-off family whose father was a very observant Jew who did not take part in matters of this world, spent all of his days with the Tshernobil Hasidim, distributed charity and anonymous donations; and his wife, the mother, was free – a maskil, who spoke mostly Russian and carried herself like an aristocrat. We called her “Madame Shprintse”. Her stance irritated everyone and she had an effect on all who came to her house, where all the youth groups met – friends of her children and grandchildren. Their house was in a large courtyard in the center of town, surrounded by a huge garden. The young ones studied in various high schools, some in Kiev University, in Kharkov Polytechnic and used to gather at their parents'. The eldest son Nusye was one of the first organizers of the socialist revolutionaries. He was aided by Buzi Tsheskes, who had an excellent, multi-sided education and enchanted everyone with his wide knowledge, rich mind and also his vivacious, friendly relationships.

The “Bund” had a big influence on the town. It developed a lot of activities among the worker circles in the professional area and carried out many large and small strikes. It raised the workers' personal worth, broadened the horizon of their lives and made them strong and able to fight for the improvement of their situation. For the most part the strikes ended with a compromise. Simply put, it was not worth it to fight against employers who themselves had to work hard and bitter for their own piece of bread. Thus the situation became much

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better thanks to the activity of the “Bund”. Its influence grew with the revolutionary zeal, which had wakened everyone. I still remember the big meetings that took place in the shuln, in which the Bundist leaders took part: crowds in the thousands attended them. Not all of them ended well, but in every case they helped to strengthen the fighting spirit. One large meeting that was held in the middle of the day in the study-house in those well-known October days ended with a large police attack and everyone fled, receiving blows on their way out. There were injuries. The mishap made a big impression in town.

After the revolutionary victory came the waves of counter-revolution with its horrible pogroms. A big pogrom that was organized in April 1905 in nearby Zshitomir went on for three days. The police also took part in that, and twenty people were killed and hundreds wounded. Because of that fifty young people from Tshudnov were also killed in Troyanov, as they were hurrying to help the Zshitomir Jews.

The wave of pogroms grew stronger. There were pogroms in hundreds of towns and villages. And the disappointment in the revolutionary victory was great. The few happy moments of revolutionary radiance were quickly erased and there was a flood of great waves of Jewish blood and shameful weakening of Jewish honor, and that awakened the inner conscience and the feelings of regret for the fruitless joy. The revolutionary effect in the town collapsed and the youth began to concentrate again in the Zionist circles.


The Yeshive “Ohr Torah

Around that time the yeshive Ohr Torah” [Light of Torah] relocated to Zvhil, from the village Bereznits where it was founded in sav-resh-nun-zayin (1897). After it moved it developed into the central yeshive in all Volin. Many students gathered there, and from the far corners of Lithuania and White Russia. There were years when 300 students were studying there. The Rosh-yeshive, the founder Reb Yoel Sharin (well-known by the name “the genius of Poltave”) distinguished himself with his Torah and character traits. He prevailed in Volin for 30 years (sav-reysh-nun-vov – sav-reysh-pey-vov) and in Zvhil from sav-reysh-samekh-alef – sav-reysh-pey (1901 to 1920. His biographic details are provided separately in the book.

When he first arrived he suffered a lot, because not all of our Hasidic circles had any love for the Lithuanian misnagdim, but in time he was beloved by many circles that valued his outstanding character and helped him maintain the yeshive, even if not very generously.

The yeshive was initially in the lower quarter of the town where the poor laboring workers lived and who loved the yeshive folk. The yeshive later moved to Gutinski Street near my parents. And even later, it moved into its own building on Korets Street.

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In those days I recognized the elevated spirit of the yeshive and of the rosh-yeshive. I remember the weeknights which we teachers had every week with the participation of dozens of pupils, among them some very diligent students. In the deep midnight hours he would appear in the middle of the room that was filled with floating shadows and surrounded in darkness and listen to the sad Talmud intonations.

The deep twilight mood of each night and the time that we spent in the yeshive are etched in my heart and I remember them still. He said that he was sure of his students who had spent devoted time in the yeshive, that they would remain good Jews and would stand up to all the trials that life would present when they would, for various reasons, go off to other worlds. And he was correct.

I do not know how he knew that I had begun to look into the “heretical” literature but he began talking to me about general literary issues and revealed to me something of his rich, lyrical spirit; the poems that he wrote and his broad view of the national revival and the everyday problems that were then awakened by the so-called “Tseyrim” [Youth], the group around Berditshevski and Ornprayz in the fermenting Hebrew literature. He told me at that time that after being in Volozshin he was close to a tight circle around Rov Kook of blessed memory, who had studied with him at yeshive and had distributed internal flyers about Khibat-tsien. He highly valued the personality of Rov Kook and sought knowledge from his stories. He, the “genius”, was a person with a rich, brewing soul and deep thoughts. He did a lot of traveling for the yeshive and was a frequent guest at Rov Mazeya in Moscow and Rov Ayzenshtat in Petersburg and was well-versed on many sides of the problems in current life. But at the same time he trembled at the wantonness that was growing all around him and always fought against it. Often, in his talks from deep in his heart, he would prevail upon many and turn them around to good. I remember several of his appearances on the community stage in town during various crises when he had a huge influence and effect. Many circles treasured him, even more his pupils loved him, they understood him and were captivated by his thinking and his restless soul.

Later, when the yeshive moved to its own house at the end of Korets Street, there were several reasons that distanced me from his environment. I traveled away from the town to far-off, larger places and after that to Erets yisroel. I experienced a lot but even now, forty years later, I am tied with many intimate threads to his personality.

It is also worth mentioning the spiritual brotherhood of pupils in the yeshive, which was concentrated in town and affected sever groups. Several important Talmud scholars came out of that yeshive,

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and rabbis, literati and community activists. One of them later became a well-known Central Zionist and revolutionary actor. Also among them was the founder of the kibbutz “Dagniye” – the first intimate commune in Erets-yisroel – Yosef Busel, who studied at the yeshive for a time and was captivated by the greatness of the “genius” whom he trembled to mention, even after he was in Erets-yisroel. The yeshive and its influence gave a lot to the general prominence of Hasidism in town. The voice of Torah rang in the shuln and study-houses and after the waves of revolution before the First World War, the town was occupied and they were later completely ruined in the Red overthrow which ruined the substance of our lives in that land.


The Economic Situation and the Community Institutions

The Jews were the chief builders of the town and they developed its trade with their energy, initiatives, and small industries. An important factor in that development was its good geographic position and the central Kiev-to-Brisk highway and it was the natural center for all the towns and villages around it. A large number of workers created tanning workshops which were concentrated in a particular place outside the town. There were also many workshops for clothing, hat-making, shoes and furniture which sufficed for the town's and surrounding area's needs. A special quarter in the low area by the River Slutsh was settled with “ordinary folk” who worked in metals with black-smithing, tin, and various trades in construction. The appearance of the town and its people looked as though the majority were occupied in work, heavy labor. There were also banks, the large concerns of wheat dealers and manufacturers, pelt- and fur-traders who sent goods to far points in Russia and Germany. The train line Korestin to Shefetove was built at the end of the First World War, and joined the united Poliese line with the Southwest line of the Russian train. The building of the train line after the war brought a great gusto to the town's trade, but it also brought nearer her big destruction, as it led to the concentration of Petluria's military and various other murderous bands. It also led to the central conflict with the Red military, until its final absorption into the Soviet Union as a borderland.

In the years before the First World War charity and benevolent institutions were very well organized, led by devoted trustees and community doers; there was a well-organized kind of hospital, a free overnight lodging place, the big yeshive and Talmud Torah, a hospitality house, and a town bath-house. The buildings for these services were built by some wealthy donors or by the community. There was also a large bank “mutual credit” and a “savings and loan” that included many circles of

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merchants, craftsmen and shopkeepers, and created multiple credit sources, the broadening of trade and also the building of the town. We have told earlier about the community disputes around the Talmud-Torah and the library. So the work of the banks provoked several stances being taken; and the general annual meetings, during which they elected their managers – were very stormy, where wars were fought to broaden their bases and positions.


The Vote for the Rov of Kazione

The election of the local rabbi of Kazione caused a lot of excitement. Until then it had been Rov Herr Y. Fridman, who had graduated the Rabbinical Seminary in Zshitomer and was a very modest person with a mild, temperate approach to all who all who turned to him. Some controversy was stirred up before the vote – and under the direction of the wealthy Khaye-Sore Rozenshteyn, a pious woman with great ambitions to make her son-in-law Herr Openhandin the rov. I still remember the arguments that took place then. The town was split into two camps, and the “ordinary folk”, craftsmen and small traders who bought from the wealthy madame were especially turbulent. Big dinners were arranged for various trades and they often resulted in drunkenness. I recall the songs and lovely sayings that were spread around then. It was a merry time. But nothing helped and the old Herr Fridman remained as rabbi.

When that battle was over the Zionist activists were inspired to search for an appropriate, well-known, Zionist activist who would settle in the town as rabbi. They appealed to the Zionist center in Vilne and to respected leaders like M. Sheynkin and Dr. B. Ts. Musinzon, who then were traveling in the far reaches of Russia for the high-school “Hertselia” in Yaffo; but they did not want to stay and settle with us. All the searches did not, in the end, bring about any concrete results.


The Battle over the Cantors

A little later a sharp battle, which drew large crowds and went on for several years, broke out between the cantor of the Great Shul, Herr Bogomolnik – who was a big ignoramous and far from comprehending the spirit of the old style of the prayers but had a good voice and a handsome appearance – and the new cantor Herr Shapiro, who did not possess a loud voice but was distinguished by his original Yiddish melodies for his beautiful choir and who also sang in the style of the famous cantors Nisn Belzer, Kleyner Yerukhim, Zeydl Rovner and also Levandovski and Razumni. There were some in his choir, especially some youths, who excelled with their dear, fresh voices and beautiful singing. I still remember the huge crowds, in the thousands, what were drawn to listen in every shul where he prayed.

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His praying on the shabosim were genteel experiences for all listeners, warming the hearts that longed for Jewish folk music. His nigunim would soon afterwards be sung in the workshops, homes, and filled the town. The war between the two only grew, as it went on for a long time as happens in some Jewish communities, and reached the point of fisticuffs. Until the whole matter became tiring for Cantor Shapiro, who was invited to another town, so that Herr Bogomolnik was left in the Great Shul.


The Young Zionist Circle

After the disappointment that came with the collapse of the First Russian Revolution and the great wave of pogroms, there came a reaction in every source of life. The daily Hebrew press was stopped, including the respected journal “Ha'shalakh” and only a few “Yekhidi-segula” still came out. The thin notebooks of Brener's “Ha'meorer” in London, whose woeful writings appeared from time to time, could not construct any creative energy or bring about any tangible deeds.

The old leaders were taciturn, turned into their private matters. And the youth? The few, solitary ones who remained by their youthful spirit and not engaged in seeking out a career or “free love” a la Artsibashev's “Sanin” threw themselves into the twilight moods of Russian decadence that then dominated the Russian and also the Yiddish literature. The “small days” of no creative spirit had come. The environment was full of fear of the pogroms that were expected, and it seemed that the torch that had been lit by the poet Fayerberg and his group had been completely darkened.

In those days a small, tight circle of a few young people gathered together again, some who could not bear the stillness that dominated the environs, and they sought a way out from the suffocation that – in those days of the Beylis trial – permeated everything; and they sought a connection with the “Ha-poel ha'tsair” in Erets-yisroel. That very tight circle began to set up larger youth circles for studying Jewish and Zionist history and Hebrew literature, and that spread among wider circles. They also appeared frequently in open meetings in the shuln. One of the leaders of a circle was Shmuel Shleyn, who was then studying in Odessa and would often come during vacation breaks and take part in our work. Our dear friend Yehoshua Khisin also took part in the circle; by trade he was a brick-maker who was older than we were but always young in spirit and always ready to fulfill any organizational work. He unfortunately remained in Zvhil and disappeared with his family; Shmuel Ingal who later came to America and the writer of these columns (Dan Maliar). It was their initiative that built

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the little circle around which was concentrated the social fabric of the young Zionist movement.

In 1911 (sav-reysh-ayin-alef) member Shleyn left, the first of us to go to Erets-yisroel and his departure strengthened our will to follow him, but meanwhile we did not leave our propaganda work.

In the Spring of 1912 (sav-reysh-ayin-beys) the Zionist center in Vilne put together an illegal Volin conference in Polonye. The conference took place in a suburb not far from the train station, in the house of leader Dovid Grinfeld, where it would not be discovered by the police. He himself was an old Jew with broad erudition in general and Jewish topics and a refined character. Participants in the conference included the literat A. M. Borokhov who attended in the name of the Center, plus many delegates, mostly from youth groups. Among them the delegate from Kremenets, a student from Bern, Switzerland, Londsberg, distinguished himself and enchanted everyone with his sharp-minded youthful spirit. He was later a central figure in Kremenets. The conference began in the evening and when it ended the next morning everyone was photographed. Soon after the conference the police found out and began to search to uncover who its participants were, searches that reached as far as the Central Committee in Vilne, which at the time operated semi-legally due to the influence of the brothers Goldberg. But the uncovering could ruin his legal work as well and we received secret instructions to get rid of the photograph that had now fallen suspect, since it was tied to the secret police, and to destroy the negative of the picture. It was very difficult to give in to fulfilling the instructions but it turned out that some of the participants in the conference were already known to the police and some were arrested, and also, if I am not mistaken, there was a court trial in nearby Shefatovke against a few of the arrestees but they were later freed. From then on the police began to spy on the Zionist activists and we had to be illegal and guard against public appearances. In 1912 (sav-reysh-ayin-beys) we took part in the election of delegates to the eleventh Zionist Congress and elected our member Tsvi Yehuda of the “Ha'poel ha'tsair”; soon after the Congress he came to visit us. His arrival aroused the suspicion of the police who knew all the residents of the town. We then arranged a secret meeting of our members in a private house, in the cellar. The meeting was carried out quietly and he left town in the morning. Soon after he left the police carried out an investigation and arrested several members, but they were released in a few days.


The February Revolution

With the outbreak of the Kerensky Revolution in the Spring of 1917 we

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began to perceive a new spirit in the town. A group of new Zionist activists who had worked on building the new Korestin-Shefetovke train line created a social movement. The contractor for the construction work was Eliezer Melup – from a well-known family in Vilne who was remarkable for its adept Zionist and social activism. Several Zionists worked in Eliezer Melup's office, among them the clerk Yehuda Karni. Herr Pines from Minsk was also in town at the time, a devoted, dynamic activist, and thanks to his work he aroused a lot of interest and will to do Jewish folk-work in many circles that had until now stood at a distance from Zionist thought.

It was soon after the All-Russian Zionist Convention in Petersburg and the Spring months of the First Russian Revolution. New sources of life had been discovered that were until now underground movements. New energies were awakened which could never have happened under the tsarist reaction, and that also captivated the folksy Volin and our town, where Zionist thought had deep roots. Then the youth groups of the “Tseyri tsien”. Evening courses for workers and youth were organized as well as a fight for Hebrew-study classes in the shuln. The “Beyt ha-seyfer ha'metuken” was founded again where all the classes were conducted in Hebrew. The struggle for elections to the democratic community board was also going on, and to the Jewish convention and to the All-Russian Founding Convention, that was soon destroyed by the Bolshevik assault.

It is worthwhile to remark on three conventions during this period that did not leave much of an impression.

  1. The Zionist Regional Convention on 20 to 22 kheshbon sav-reysh-ayin-khes (1918) in Zvhil. Participants in the organization of the convention included our young Zionist group and the coworkers from Melup's office, as well as the representative of the Center, M. Hindes. Delegates from all the places in the area took part, and represented two directions: Workers and common people, and a more left one with a Yiddishist bent. The conference lasted two days and political and organizational resolutions were taken. Taking part were A. Melup, Y. Pines and the poet Y. Karni and Itsik Lomden who was then a soldier and belonged to the Tseirey tsien.
  2. Preparedness for Construction Work in Erets-yisroel. Soon after the convention Herr Melup called together the leaders of all the societies, including the socialist and assimilationist circles in the town and region. Herr Yankev Klebanov, the representative from the Center and member of the editorial staff of “Razsviet”, gave a lecture on the upcoming construction work in Erets-yisroel. The foundational, multi-sided lecture introduced new horizons
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of impending work that was not known to all the participants, and all were inspired by it. In the disputes that went on after the lecture, the representative of the Tseirey-tsien arrived at a successful expression. Then many acknowledged Zionism as a first-class power that was building the Jewish future.
  1. Lastly, the visit by Eliezer Kaplan, later finance minister in the first Israeli government. He had taken part in conferences of various groups and in a huge meeting in the Great Shul to which large crowds came, that filled the shul and the streets around it. At the time election campaigns for the Jewish convention were going on with a strong fight with the “Bund”, and assimilated circles of the “folks-group” who brought in L. M. Goldshteyn from Petersburg. The Zionist activists visited the town too, Yulius Brotskus, also of Petersburg. The big meeting ended with a spontaneous manifestation and rousing singing by all attendees. This was the last Jewish manifestation before the October days and civil war that quickly brought on the great chaos.
The first pogrom that broke out in town soon after began Friday afternoon in the old market square with robbing the stalls and shops. The surprise of the pogrom breaking out was great and imposed an oppressed mood on everyone. The self-defense group was not yet prepared and only a few individuals dared to go out to the street and help those robbed. The peasants from the villages ran wild for the whole shabes. In the morning when we saw that our little self-defense group could not stand up against the pogromists, who were still protected by the police, I was requested to contact the leaders of the Zshitomir self-defense; and, sighing, I dressed in military clothes, hopped over to nearby Zshitomir and stirred up the local self-defense, which had heard earlier reports about the pogrom. They quickly organized an armed troop headed up by student Turkanovski. The troop arrived in town on shabes evening in two big trucks, drove through several streets shooting into the air and threw a shock into the pogromists, who were still robbing houses. The police by then were also watching them and they ran away. In sum, all the stalls had been burned, and all the shops on Soborbe Street and also some on Pozarne up to the Butchers' Shul. There were no casualties. Tule Marmer, Mikhal Gubin and F. Kats took an active role in the self-defense then, plus Rov Karp who at risk of his own life went to help the victims of the pogrom.

A while later the Germans occupied Volin and then all of Ukraine and then introduced the Skarapadski regime. During the space of the hetman occupation a multi-branched social work developed all over Ukraine. Many economic and cooperative institutions were founded and established

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in which mostly Zionists were effected. The“Tarbus” movement, a project of the well-branched “Tseirey-tsien”, founded many cultural institutions, folks- and middle-schools, evening courses and seminars for teachers. Ukraine in those days looked like a quiet island between the brewing waves of the civil war that stormed in every corner of Russia, in the offensive of the Red Army against the powers of Koltshak, Kurnilov and Denikin.

But the superficial quiet was soon over with the revolutionary outbreak in Germany and the fall of the German government in Ukraine. A new wave of gruesome pogroms hit most of the longest-settled Jewish towns and villages, which were turned over from hand to hand in the battles of the Red military with Petluria's bands.

In those days a string of pogroms broke out in our Zvhil through Petluria's bands, with the active help of the local Ukrainians and Polaks, who knew all the streets well and the Jews of the town and the environs. They performed their slaughter deeds with a bestial joy and a well worked-out plan. They drove the Red Army (June 1919) to the other side of the River Slutsh, collected a lot of men from the houses and – under the lofty watch of the Provoslovne Church – took them under the bridge at Zshitomir Street and killed them there. The slaughter went on for ten days.

The Bolshiviks standing on the other side of the Slutsh noted the arrival of new Petluria troops and seeing that the Jews – who had no other alternative – welcomed them, shot up the town with incendiary bombs which fell in the central streets and burned them. The few Jews who were still in town, seeing how the whole town was flickering in a hellish fire, ran along the road Korets on the side of the village Yarun. Witnesses saw heroic deeds of self-sacrifice to save the Torah scrolls from the burning Tshernobil Shul. More exhaustive details about that era are given separately in the book.

When the conflagration ended the sadistic murders by the pogromists got even stronger, searching out victims in the Jews still in hiding. Some 1,200 Jews were killed in the pogroms in the town and another 600 in the near environs. In September 1919 the Poles took the town and a plague of typhus broke out which wiped out another 1,000 souls. The dead were thrown together onto wagons, or often in small wheelbarrows, and taken without proper burial garments to mass graves without a gravestone.

At the time I was in Kiev where a permanent pogrom was going on by the Denikin bands and I only returned at the end of the summer of 1920, broken in heart and soul, to my old home, to Zvhil. I found a burned-out, robbed-out town with a small number of surviving Jews. Abandoned, parentless children in

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orphanages. A mood of despair reigned among the survivors, without initiative to make themselves build again and construct a new life. But however accustomed they were to that stark life, each one had to seek a way to sustain themselves.

Fortified by the Polish government, help soon arrived from the Warsaw Aid Committee and soon after that a lot more from the Joint [Jewish Joint Distribution Committee]: foodstuffs, clothing and large sums of money. Following the initiative of the local leaders and Joint activists several soup kitchen were established, three orphanages, a hospital and consumer shops where food was distributed and clothing which came through the Joint. The emergency help literally saved the lives of the ruined survivors, especially during the months of the typhus epidemic that reached every corner of the town and extinguished hundreds of souls, who wandered among the ruined houses and in the streets. The dead – among them bodies swollen from hunger and want – were gathered by the dozen and carried off in wheelbarrows and taken naked to the cemetery and buried in common graves.

Within the Aid Committee there was constant conflict between the old philanthropic doers who were satisfied with partial charitable help to maintain some quality of life, and a constructive part that strove to rehabilitate the suffering and help them to employ themselves with their own work in various trades.

On my return I got caught up in the orphanages that were maintained by the Zionist-Hebrew language circle, under the oversight of our young members.

I was enthusiastic about the orphanages – which at the time were not yet evacuated – with a strong will to help the orphans get out of there and to bring them to Erets-yisroel. Meanwhile we had to worry about their day-to-to needs while not having financial support from any economic institution. We would sometimes receive some small support from the town managers in the form of foodstuffs, but that was generally not enough, and the point is, there was no security for the next day. After a meeting with the members we decided to use all our resources to join with the institutions located on the other side of the border.

At that time negotiations were being conducted between the offices of the Pilsudski military and the Red Army about an armistice, and the fate of the town, as a border zone, was dependent on those conclusions. It was announced that Zvhil would be handed over to the Russian state and the border would not be far from the town. Meanwhile there was no border and the bands were active all around. It was decided that I would try to get through to Rovne, where there was a stable government and also where there was a representative of the Joint. And I did manage to reach Rovne and

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connect with Herr Gam who was the head of the Joint. It is important to characterize here this particular community leader who was also the chairmen of the Rovne Jewish community. He was also a devoted Zionist. His dealing with me at our first meeting was especially touching. Despite the fact that he did not know me at all, when he heard my request he quickly resolved that he would fulfill it soon in order not to delay in those uncertain times, the possibility of evacuating the children from an institution and he also fortified me with his good advice.

I arrived back in Zvhil in the morning and quickly gathered our members and the relatives of the orphans and announced that we could and must evacuate with all the children very soon. The same day we received the news that the Russian-Polish border had been designated and that our town would be in the Soviet Zone. We decided to leave soon.

The situation awakened a lot of energy in us to brace against all interference, to acquire wagons from the local peasants for transporting us to the border and to pay them whatever they wanted. A day before of departure the Polish military left the town. We got up in the very early morning. We settled the children – about 35 of them – in the wagons, which we filled with a small inventory and old clothes which we did not want to leave, knowing that would not be able to get any others anytime soon. There was a heavy, driving rain which made everything more difficult. We were accompanied by the weeping of the relatives of the children and our Pioneer Group (about 20 members) who were leaving with us for Erets-yisroel, and went close at the sides of the wagons by foot. And then the peasants, after going only a few viorsts, stopped and demanded another large payment and we had no alternative but to give them everything they wanted in order to reach the border. It was daylight when we arrived at the Polish guard station. The rain that had poured down all night stopped, but a cold chill enveloped us. We shuddered even more for the tiny little children. The negotiations with the Poles lasted several hours until they conceded to take a good sum of money and open the crossover. We reached Korets, the first village with a Polish government. There was not yet a Joint representative and we had a lot of trouble until we got a temporary residence for all of us. The Zionist activists in Korets helped us a lot, but the best support that we got was in our own Pioneer Group which quickly harnessed itself and organized a cooperative and began doing all the physical work like chopping wood, carrying loads and using the proceeds to sustain the orphanage for the first weeks. The work spirit and the physical work strengthened us, filled us with joy. We met with the people from Zvhil who had arrived earlier. Among them was the “genius”,

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who was very disappointed and was waiting for his children who were arriving a day or so later.

After a few days in Rovne we connected with Herr Gam and thanks to his help, and that of the other leaders, the Joint agreed to take the children into the town orphanages that the Joint had in Rovne. We stayed in Korets only few weeks until we moved the children and settle them in an institution a few days before the khanike festival.

Several days after our departure from Zvhil a Red Army detachment took over the government of the town and tore it away from us. We then moved to Rovne in order to be near to the children. It was also easier to obtain certification for Erets-yisroel. And we all continued to work at the mentioned physical labor.

In the beginning of 1920 when the town was handed over to the territory of the Soviet Union, we were completely cut off from the surviving Jews there and could not return to them for the whole time.

From the reports that we got we knew that after the beginning of the Nazi attacks on the Soviet Union and the wide-spread slaughter in Volin that many Jews had attempted to flee en masse along the road to Zshitomer and Kiev with the goal of reaching to large open regions of East Russia, but the Nazi bands caught them, violently turned them back to Zvhil and exterminated them en masse, burying them alive in graves they had been forced to dig for themselves.

Wild animals found them wandering in the depths of the forests, and ripped them apart alive and spread their bones limb by limb in the unconsecrated fields.

That is how you were murdered – you noble souls and tortured bodies! How horribly they decimated the beauty of your much-respected deeds which permeated your rich spiritual intelligence!! Your sanctified spirit will forever illuminate our memory of you!! May God avenge your blood!!

* *

It is important to note the further work of our Pioneer Group in several pioneering areas.

In the meantime we lived as citizens in Rovne and managed to procure certificates and speed up the orphans' journey to Erets-yisroel. And the whole time we received negative responses from the Erets-yisroel office. In those days of RUINED LIFE we received ever worse news from Erets-yisroel which only reinforced our excitement for Erets-yisroel and we decided to move to Warsaw in order to increase our pressure on the Erets-yisroel office to speed up our aliya.

In the middle of winter 1921 (sav-reysh-pey-alef) some of our members left for

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Warsaw and there worked again as before. Two worked in the Erets-yisroel office and received the certificates in the beginning of April; then the remainder of the members moved to Warsaw. From the central Joint office we also received a promise that they would transport our children to Erets-yisroel at the first opportunity. They remained in the orphanage in Rovne meanwhile because we did not want to risk taking them out of an institution in which they all their needs were provided for and where they felt good.


The first group of Pioneers with
Mr. Z Kats, envoy from HIAS, Rovne, 1920


At the beginning of Nisen sav-reysh-pey-alef (April 1921) we left Warsaw on the way to Trieste. We arrived at Yaffo, some of us a few days before Peysakh and some on the eve of Peysakh. A few days later, on May 1, the pogrom in Yaffo broke out, in which a dozen new immigrants were killed including some of our shipmates and Y. H. Brener. Our ship was the last before closing immigration. The next ship, which sailed after ours, was stopped on the instruction of Natsib Smuel: “Stop immigration”.

Our group dispersed to various places. Most went to “Gadod ha'avoda” at its beginning settlement on the land in Ayn Kherod and its department in Jerusalem. They were among those who laid the foundation of the kibbutz movement right after the First World War – among the first stone-breakers in Jerusalem restored. Some of us went into teacher seminaries in Jerusalem, under the direction of Dovid Yelin and became the creators of Jewish education in Israel. There was not one pioneering undertaking in the land in which our members did not take an active part.

[Pages 30-45]

Zvhil and her Near Environs

by Dr. Yankev Leyvi [deceased]

Translated by Tina Lunson

In memory of the clear, pure soul of Sore bas Yoel, a fruitful field who went far from home, alone.

When one recalls his memories of the large Jewish community in Zvhil, one must remember it in full with all its branches, the small communities and also the solitary single Jewish houses spread over the villages and submerged in the large seas of gentiles, which was on its exterior surface quiet and calm but in its depths full of eternal hatred – the enmity of Esau for Jacob.

That sea, which directly and indirectly provided a livelihood to the whole Jewish community through various venues – grain and fruit dealers who waited an entire year for the Fall season. Then they came and competed among themselves for the rich peasant who owned the fields. Handlers of young and mature cows, for flesh and milk; agents from Singer sewing machines who wandered over the villages and whose eyes peered through every nice house – of the priest, the landowners, rich peasants, well–to–do Jews – for them to buy a sewing machine and pay by installments. Or wandering peddlers who visited the villages on foot or in a small wagon harnessed to a skinny old horse, and brought cheap men's clothing from the city and traded them for food products: eggs, hog–bristles, hens, potatoes and the like.

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Many of the village dwellers brought the fruit of their fields into town themselves, with the hope of selling them there and then buying what they needed. Every morning with the sunrise, they encountered Jews at the entrance to the town, men and women, who approached every peasant wagon, wanting to grab something to buy before the wagon reached the town.

But the important mediators through whom the main trade was conducted between the village and the town were the Jewish settlers who lived in the villages. They were the most important mediators between the gentiles and the Jews, they knew the situation of the gentiles better than the town Jews and could better speak with them in their language. They were also more believable to the peasants than the town Jews. The Jews in the villages had small shops that carried everything that the peasant needed: flour, sugar, candy, and manufactured merchandise (inexpensive linens and kerchiefs), various cooking utensils and house supplies (oil, soap, gas, thread, needles), building materials and some dyes, matches, rope and even simple medications and the like. And all in one room, in cartons and sacks, innumerable glass jars that were tossed one on top of another. There was everything in a pile, all the things that the buyer could get for money.

Once a week the Jews stashed everything into boxes, barrels and sacks and also took along some empty vessels and traveled into the town (that is, Zvhil) which was their central town and their entire life was dependent on it not only from a material position but also in the way that a small child is dependent on its mother, whom he came from and from whom he draws all his life's needs.

Traveling in to the town was a great pleasure for the whole family in a village, large and small. They were traveling, generally, to bring back merchandise but in truth, “to be among folk”, pulling themselves away for one day from the “swinish environment” (the usual nick–name for the uncircumcised), and sought to spend a few hours in purely Jewish air. The journey itself was not an easy one. One traveled through mud in the winter and on dusty, rutted roads in the summer. Also jostling around in the simple wagon on the boxes and barrels was no special pleasure. But who thought about that while every turn of the wagon brought you closer to the town. There were small, short stations along the way that created some pleasure, because it brought one in touch with a Jewish settlement, and one felt a small excitement from the town. The first station was the village Kropivne, a poor village in which every contact with them was bad and in driving through it everything looked terrible. Yet is was pleasant to stop for a while at a Jewish house that stood on the wide highway close to the government school teacher. He was a well–to–do, respectable Jew, had many children and when the wagon stopped they all came out to welcome

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us, all glad to see one another. Our conversation was not long, the point being, we were healthy and had a livelihood “borekh ha'shem” and we traveled on. Not far from the village, the unpaved highway began, and the trip became easier and faster. The horses let themselves run, and it seemed as though they also wanted to get to the town more quickly.

The second station was in the small settlement near the town, Zilonaya Gorka (Green Hill). At the top of the hill stood a fine house and in it lived a many–branched Jewish family. In order to reach to the courtyard of the house one had to go up from the highway and turn there separately. We did not have any business dealings with the residents of the house, but how can you go past a Jewish house and not say hello? Almost all the members of the house, including the teacher and his pupils, came out and surrounded the wagon. We all asked about health and livelihood. “Borekh ha'shem”, the livelihood was not so good, but one is alive and healthy. And after such talk, mixed with a lot of Hebrew words and of quotes from the sages, commentaries and Yiddish folklore, our hearts felt lighter and we said warm goodbyes and hurried into the town, there was still a lot of work and the day would not stand still.

Another station, the last, literally at the entrance to the town and all of two or three houses which was called “Paris” of all things, and the Jew who settled there “Yona Parizer” who was a relative of ours, did not may you never know of it, have any children, and so we could not drive past his house and not say hello and exchange a few words.

The wagon drove in with a lot of noise over the long bridge over the Sluch [River], and we finally arrived in town. It is the tumultuous town, a complete Jewish world. First we go up to the so–called butter factory, throw the butter barrel – full of the butter we have collected all week – off the wagon. The smell of the factory carries a long distance. It is where the butter brought in from all the villages is gathered. They mix it with a lot of salt and pack it into new barrels to export it abroad. Jews stand in a large room in choking air and heat and knead the soft butter with their hairy hands. And it is sad to see the pieces of butter that are already wrapped in parchment paper or in clear white bags – they have lost their fine faces. True, the butter is not kosher, but it is pure and light, white or yellow. Especially those that come from the German colonies are molded into various shapes and labeled nicely. All the nice packages are thrown into the big vat quickly losing their face and color, and hairy hands knead them together and make of them one huge piece. Master of the Universe, how can they, there in the other lands, eat such butter?

Father finally finishes his accounting with the factory owner and he tells a funny story while walking to the wagon. The owner accompanies him and

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cannot resist pinching this young village man and asking, “So, sheygets, do you know what the parshe for this week is?” He does not get a response. He does not wait for him but my father is a little embarrassed and says, “Why are you asking him about the parshe for the week, he's already studying his second year of Talmud!”

And we finally move away and get distance from that suffocating place. It is not so pleasant sitting up there in the wagon, on the full sacks and empty boxes – like a rooster – and driving from shop to shop, tossing down the merchandise and loading on something else. I am a little embarrassed of this “school of virtue” where I have been placed. Especially annoying are the frequent stations at each stop and the calling to my father, “Reb Meyshe Neseliner, wait a moment…”

Hundreds of people know my father, all of the townspeople are his friends and want to grab a chat with him. And father can tell each one something, not just “something” but a tell a whole story, an example or a saying. Father tells and everyone gets pleasure from his stories. But sitting up on the wagon, on the sacks and boxes and waiting until the end of the story is not my big desire. Father, can we keep going? “Yes, my son, right away, right away.” But then he mentions another story and everyone wants to hear it. And it keeps going on.

We drive the length of the streets, on the beaten–down bridge which jostles the wagon and the bones until the teeth almost fall out of your mouth, but who looks at that? Because this has been a whole day with so many experiences. A special day, as they say, like the interim day of a holiday or else the holiday itself.

How does the town so dazzle the village child? Certainly, they buy his new things there, a new cap or we order a new suit at the tailor's. But that happens only once a year, on the eve of a holiday. No! This is exactly the purest spiritual pleasure of the nice things to see and the fresh memories. The Jewish child, like his parents, hates the goyishe village, for its loneliness among the goyishe children whom he knows but cannot be friends with. Everyone in his home advises him to keep a distance from them. He himself is not drawn to them. The harshest words of insult for him are when someone says to him, Do you want to be like the “shkotsim”, a swinish peasant and so on, and then who would want to be like them? He has seen his ideal in the Jewish child in town, in the place he lives, how he speaks, walks and dresses, and a kind of intellectual difference from him, the village boy. And he sits on the wagon and looks at the children who stroll freely over the streets. Smaller than those in kheyder and larger than those in yeshive. He can already separate them out and in his heart is a misty prayer: If only I could be among them.

My father only took me into town rarely, so that we do not interrupt my study. But nevertheless I went every month with my mother, to be her “guard” – as my parents said with a smile. I

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did not understand very well the meaning of the word, and I took it in its simplest form: because the driver of the horse was a hired gentile and he had a tendency to steal so I needed to guard so that he would not take some merchandise and put it into his pocket.

My mother did not have much business to do in the town and we did not have to go around to all the shops, as was usual on the visits with my father. But sometimes I did hear a call, “Meyshe Neseliner's wife in coming” – it turned out that one of the merchants or one of the shopkeepers had something to give or send to my father and my mother would fritter away some words and we would travel on. And another thing: I was not so afraid for my mother – and I was allowed to walk around freely on the streets. But there was one thing that I did not like about my trips with her: she told me to stay and guard the wagon, and I could not go anywhere else – and she left me and was hidden from me and I had to wait an eternity and when she came back, her face was red and sweaty.

“Where were you this whole time, and why are you so sweaty?”

“I was at a place, what does it matter to you?” and we hurried home. It was already late.

One time I saw her as she slipped away from me and hurriedly walked “down” and I did not understand: there were not any shops or businesses there. In the end I finally realized, that she was hurrying to the “bath” [mikve]. And I also did not understand why she hid it. And why did she have to travel to the town for that? Couldn't one have a good wash around at home like everyone else?

My mother was a sick woman, sick with asthma and when she came back from “there” she breathed with difficulty, her face was red and she hurried and tried not to engage with people she knew, just as they looked at her with curiosity and knew why she had come into town. She did not heed if someone suddenly called out behind her, Excuse me – wait just a minute!

Now after so many years I look back on that and a great love and respect rouses in me for that honest, pure, simplicity of that kosher Jewess, who rattled along on that hard trip, summer and winter in the heat and cold, not to buy baubles or clothes or for trade or entertainment – but in order to be in accord with the laws for women. I was just a child then and did not understand that and was annoyed at her rush to get back home. And an internal sadness seizes me like that of going from a holiday mood to the every–day.

Actually, as a Jew each of us was bound with Zvhil, from birth until the last day. And between those two extremes there are various middle stations at which Zvhil fulfills important assignments:

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rearing children, family issues, holiday customs and so on; who could tally them all?

Sons are growing here, praise God, and one must make kosher Jews of them. One cannot just leave it, or they will not study and remain goyim – so one must travel to the town and find a teacher. Twice a year, at “semester time” – after peysakh and after sukes – we went into town and if the previous teacher was not there for the next term, find a new teacher.

The shul–street in Zvhil is noisy with people. A lot of “yeshive–bokherim”, young and old, married and unmarried, are gathered around the big study–house. All are seeking a candidacy in one of the villages. The village Jews come here too to find an “educator” for their children. Merchants acting as match–makers also mix in, who will work to bring the two sides together.

They wrangle about the terms of engagement, state their prices, and sometimes the discussions about he prices go on for a long time as conducted by the Jewish merchants. The candidate for teacher wants to know exactly the situation of the village Jews, in what kind of house he will have to live for half a year. A plain village Jew is reckoned to be a coarse person, of little knowledge, and it must be well considered – the village Jew wants, of course, to know if the teacher is a pleasant person, from a good family, and a good teacher, and the point, if he can control the wild children who may not want to study so much; and the village Jew will also inquire about the teacher and sometimes ascertains this by a kind of pedagogical test. They find a small child and distract him with a candy so he will sit at the table to read a passage – and the teacher candidate gives him a kind of “sample lesson”.

That reminds me of what happened to me. I was already soon to become bar–mitsve and had already studied in the yeshive at the second–year table, and had studied Talmud with commentaries with a study partner, as it was done in those days. During the “between seasons” time I loved to stroll among the commotion that dominated in the study–house and all around it. At one point they were looking for a small boy to make a test with a teacher, and because I was small and appeared young, they took me and convinced me to agree to pose as a child who was just beginning to learn Hebrew. I agreed but I did not understand that I should fulfill the assignment of a child who does not want to study and whose thoughts are distracted from study and who runs away under the table and if he reads at all it is with great difficulty. I wanted to use such an “assignment” as an opportunity for the teacher to correct and teach well. I started racing through the lines of type, so that the teacher could not keep up with me with the pointer. First they had me read in a sidur or a makhzor, but after that they tested me in the Onkelos commentary – and without the help the teacher. This “kindergartner” leapt over the lines without stumbling and could not be stopped. Until he finished the

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trial. And I worry that – it seems to me – because of me that teacher was stricken off and did not get the candidacy in the village.

Preparations for the holiday were great in the town. Every day I particularly felt the threads that bound together every Jew in the far–flung Jewish corners with their spiritual residence. In those days every Jew especially felt his “Jewishness” and it also strengthened the urge to unite with the larger “community of Yisroel”. As the days of peysakh neared one needed to bring flour for matzos, wine for the four cups, hagodes and kharoses and so on. In the last days before peysakh one had to drive to the rov to sell the khomets and how great was the fear that the peysakh things would get too close to the other things that were in the wagon – things for the goyishe holiday which was completely khomets.

And when we had brought the things into the house the heart rested easier. Everything in the house was already set for peysakh, and now we completed it with outside things brought from the town that all said “pure Jewishness”.

It was already late summer. The fruit of the gardens and the wheat from the fields were now gathered. The days became shorter and the nights longer and sadness gripped the heart. The rains would suddenly come, the roads would be wrecked, the house necessities in the deep cold would be greater and we needed to be thinking about wood for heat, warm winter clothes and putting up the storm windows, repairing the roof and the house in general. Our livelihood would be less in winter.

But for all these worries the predominant one now was specifically the Days of Awe mood. A small thing: rosh–ha'shone and yon–kiper. In those days the need to be with other Jews was felt even stronger, to cry to the heavens together with them, pleading and shedding tears for all the Jewish needs: livelihood, health and bringing up the children in Torah, marriage and good deeds, and the point, for the release from the yoke of Exile, to which one was already accustomed every hour of the day – only now is it felt strongly as the Exile is in the neighboring goy, the thief, the villain, and persecutor; that goy that is ready to do anything bad to you – the Jew – that you depend on him for. And you feel the need to unite with the Jewish earth in town, to sit with them at least for a few days. But not every Jew can do this. You cannot just abandon your economic life and house and go away. It is better to bring home a little of the “Jewishness” from town and take from that a consolation for the whole year.

The Jews in two or three villages gather and make up a partnering minyon. Then the usual disagreements between them are forgotten, they are small thing against the Day of Judgment that is coming. Someone has to travel into town, to bring out a Torah scroll, the various prayer books, and they need to find a good cantor with a sweet voice who will lead the services and read the Torah. The earlier prayer–leader no longer had a good voice, but he was

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a real expert who brought to the village Jewish community some of the “Jewishness” of the town, that stirred and befriended the heart.

We did not need to audition a prayer leader because my father had a sweet voice and was himself a musaf leader. And my grandfather, my mother's father, Mr. Yosef Barmak, of blessed memory, could lead shakhris. We also had our own Torah reader and even a shofer blower, who practiced his trade every day in the month of Elul until he was literally a virtuoso. The voices of his shofer were so light and pleasant to hear. But Satan the protesting angel mixed in with malice during the “tekiyes” and caused him to stumble.

The eminent hour draws near. The congregation recites “the conductor of the sons of Korakh has a psalm” with great feeling. The shofer–blower, his tales covering his head, trembles as he recites the prayers for the tekiyes, calls for help from the great angels Matatren, Tritiel and others – the fateful moment is coming. Trembling, he recites the blessing, puts the shofer to his mouth and the cantor calls out te–ki–ya–a – everyone waits in suspense, holds their breath. And that moment it was as though hidden cork had stopped up the shofer – and no voice was heard. The shofer–blower strained all his strength and blow into the shofer, it seemed as if everything would shatter, but all that was heard was a screech and some whistling that grated on the ears and filled everyone with an inner pain, and even more so the shofer–blower himself, who finished nevertheless another few strained tekiyas. The entire community felt embarrassed and jumped unenthusiastically into the verses with the names of the angels who had not helped out in this need. And as the shofer–blower took the tales from over his head one could see his pale face and streams of sweat running from him.

But then there was a loud slap on the table, and into that generally tense mood came the beloved voice of my father, “Happy are those who know the tekiyas”. The sweet holiday melody calmed the hearts and that arousal dominated in their hearts. But the shofer–blower was as sad as before and said his prayers with a broken heart.

After prayers the people circled around him and each one tried to encourage him, comfort him. Hands reached out to him from every side and wished him a happy new year and he responded, “I do not understand how this happened to it…”

“So, what can you do,” someone answered. “Satan may his name be blotted out mixed in somehow, you are not to blame.”

And one sharp–witted man tried to distract him and told an old proverb of how it happened to a well–known shofer–blower, whom Satan disturbed during the tekiyas. What did he do, the brave shofer –blower? He told the “water spirits” inside the shofer, “If you do not go out immediately I will blow into the big end of the shofer and push you out.”

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He was terrified and ran away on his own. They had heard the proverb more than once before, but all tried to put him at ease and to laugh with him.

One tried to joke with him, “Anyhow, this happens sometimes even in the big city Zvhil, without any advice against Satan. Last year, as I recall, some of the tekiyas were successful and were wonderfully beautiful.” In my childish memory I remember that a similar thing happened then and it was clear to me that such things could happen to him in the coming years too. Satan will always interfere and will not allow the tekiyas to reach the divine throne.

I am skipping over yom–kiper because it is not loved by children. A very long day with endless prayers. A few Jews stand all the time and pray with weeping and from the other room is the loud lamenting of the women, whom the men often have to quiet. It is only a little different on the night before yom–kiper with the thick, fresh–smelling hay that they put down in the prayer room which begs one to roll around in it. But if you have a little fun and adult will soon shout at you, and sometimes a child is loudly slapped across the face. And in the stillness of the minyon you can hear the cantor wailing out the prayers.

After yom–kiper, the preparations for sukes were a little lighter on the heart. Constructing the suke in a village was not difficult but then you have to drive into Zvhil to purchase an esrog and lulav and my father always hurried to bring one of the best esrogim, and was prepared to pay more for it. And the rov knew to set aside an esrog without a flaw for him at the start, and we would return joyfully home. I would hold the lulav upright in the air and protect the tip so it would not touch anything and get split. In my lap lay a small green box and inside it, wrapped in soft silky flax lay the fragrant, cheery esrog that my father had picked out. Usually, all the village Jews got pleasure from the esrog and lulav for all of sukes. They came every day to bless the esrog and be careful not to touch the skhakh covering the suke with the lulav. In my fantasy I was already preparing to beat the willow branches on hoshane raba and for the merry dances in the circuits on the night of simkhes toyre and the aliyes under my father's tales on the morning reading of the Torah when we get to shout, “we call the groom Pluny son of Pluny”.

Before the era mentioned, the men used to all go on shabes to pray in the nearby village, Tasnovke. The distance there was not so small, and the eruv was barely large enough to carry within it. But it was pleasant to walk there, especially very early in the summer, when the dew was still sprinkled on the fields and your feet sank into the soft damp grass. Though it was hard walking home in the burning heat. But my father always made the way easier with his jokes and stories. My father was an artist with his stories and his talks cheered us up, especially

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me, because I then I had the rare opportunity to join in conversations with him when he usually had no time to talk with the children. Really, what father conversed particularly with his children? A father shouted at the children, corrected them, sometimes strapped them, when he had to. That was his duty but just plain talking, chatting with them, never occurred to him. But on those shabes mornings, walking to the minyon, to Tasnovke, together on such a long way (my elderly grandfather rarely went with us) I really did get to talk with my father. Then my father would talk and I would just ask questions from time to time; but what beautiful legends I heard from him, especially Hasidic tales. He possessed a marvelous treasure and how well he narrated them! It was as though everything was alive before me and a wonderful pleasure come over me.

The minyon itself in Tasnavke was not my favorite. The village people were from one big family, a father with six grown sons and a son–in–law from his only daughter. They and their many children, who were older than I was, were past their bar–mitsve years. The father with the children, tall adults, were good Jews but theirs was a simple, barely knowledgeable praying style and their prayers were full of errors that were famous as jokes in the local area. Each of the children lived separately in great poverty. The oldest son had a tiny grocery store. He had become the prince among them. They all had different kind of little businesses. The sixth, whom the father called “my youngest”, was literally a titan and had just recently returned from military service in Poland where he spent four years without visiting his parents. He brought back a city woman, from Lodz, a nicely–dressed one. True she was not so beautiful but she made a powerful impression on all the other women in the village environment with her clothes and manners and they talked about her in her absence. Although they knew nothing about her, they simply mocked her.

All through the week they hardly saw one another. Each one was busy in his business and did not have any chance to argue, but on shabes when they met to pray, they brought every little thing to a colliding general war. That included old, already–forgotten complaints, family embarrassments from childhood, from that time when they all starved together in their father's home.

Among all the voices could particularly be heard the voice of the second son, the pot–maker, who attacked more than anyone else because he was the poorest among them, a man burdened with little children and problems. He was more bitter than they and it appeared that they all abused him and when he joined in the fight the situation became more dangerous and the father had to come in and shout, “Hilel, be quiet and sit down!” But

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that turn of events irritated them even more and Hilel would jump up and insolently shout, “Better for you to be quiet, papa!”

“What?” seethed the father. “Answer a father in that way?” and he let loose a flurry of resounding slaps on Hilel's face.

The sudden slapping of the son by the father – on its own a father slapping a grown adult child – calmed the other one for a while and he would sit in retreat from the war. But the fight flickered anew and soon the children and grandchildren were participating it in again, a big mish–mash. Only the younger son, the “child of my old age” who had spent four years outside the family and had a wife from Lodz with modern perceptions, sat on the side and looked askance on the fighting sons and did not mix in. Finally one of them would shout, “There is Meyshe Neseliner, let him hear us out and judge!”

“Of course, of course,” came from all sides. “Let reb Meyshe himself say who is right.” And they all fell upon father, who was picked out against his will, as a judge for them. Each one of them shouted out his complaints and because of the general tumult it was not possible to separate out one clear thing. But with that began the disarming and the end of the fight.

To begin with father tried to separate the warriors, but no one heard him. Now they were not capable of listening to the one speaking because each one was striving to be heard over his brothers. But my wise father knew that the heat was already over and they should just be allowed to express their anger, and just sat among them ostensibly listening to their complaints, and as they got tired he would turn to them and say, “So, Jews, we have to finish praying, today is shabes, our wives and children are waiting for us at home and we still have a way to go…” And he stood by the little table that served as a cantor's desk and with a shabes melody sang out “yakum porkan min shemaya” [may salvation come from heaven]. And everyone responded as if nothing had occurred and finished their prayers and went home to eat the shabes lunch and have a quiet nap just as if nothing had happened.

Those scenes were so often repeated that my father became disgusted with it and decided to look for a minyon in another place, and it was not so easy to find enough Jews in a suitable, nearby village who would come every shabes to make up the minyon. After several tries which were not successful, father prevailed upon the few Jews from the village Teplits, to come to us for a minyon and he undertook to arrange everything.

To complete the minyon we only lacked at Torah scroll, which we could only get in Zvhil. Father himself traveled to bring back the Torah. He was a Makarev Hasid and it was not hard for him to get the Makarev

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prayer–room to give him a Torah scroll. I remember even now how happy I felt sitting on the lined wagon and holding the Torah which was heavy and almost a big as I was, but I held it with all my strength so that it could not, heaven forbid, slip from my arms. From time to time my father asked whether I was tied of holding the scroll and offered to swap with him.

I loved to drive the horses but I would not give away the holding of the Torah for anything.

“No, it's not heavy for me,” I answered, and I held it tighter and we traveled on. Arriving home I was exhausted but ecstatic that I could have kept my courage until the end of the journey.

We set up a holy ark in a corner of the big guest room and the whole house became full of holiness. The entire family felt like protectors of a precious treasure which also protected us from every trouble and it seemed that all of the Jewish neighbors were envious of us for the honor and fortune that had attended us.

From then on we had our own minyon. Our house became like a small spiritual center for the few Jews near us and for the nearby village Teplits. The “hall”, the single wide room in our house, was as though sanctified and was locked the whole week, and we were satisfied with the entry–room that adjoined the kitchen. We ate there, invited guests there and all the children slept there. We rarely went into the “hall” where the holy ark stood.

I remember a case that really rattled me as a child. Once the local constable and two policemen called and lingered with us for a while. This was his first visit to us. He wanted to be let into the “hall”. We did not have any choice about it and opened the door, and they went right in. I ran ahead of them and went in to protect the ark, not knowing how I would do that. They took a flask of whisky and some sausage out of their pack and sat spread out at the table, eating. They stuffed themselves and did not even turn to the corner where the ark stood with its silk curtain. But after that, when they finished eating and began walking around the room, one of the policemen noticed the shofer on top of the ark, which we had forgotten to hide after neile on yom–kiper. I leapt at it and yelled “It's forbidden!” The officer marveled at my sudden audacity and shouting at him, the representative of the authorities.

“Why is it forbidden?” he wondered. “And what do you do with it?” he asked further, not letting go of the shofer.

“One blows into it and can hear its voice,” I answered.

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“You say you play it…” and he was more interested.

“No, well, yes, you play it…”

“And can you play it?”

“No, I cannot and neither can my father, one must first study how to do it.” Go try to explain the matter of the shofer to a goy so that he can understand it. And the policeman turned the shofer around and put in between his unclean pig–lips and tried to blow into it and no sound came out. And I hurried to jump up, grab the shofer from his hands and run out of the house to hide it.

Full of their lunch, the sated policemen seated at the table broke out in laughter. But I could not forget it. For me the shofer was ruined, because it had been on his unclean pig–lips. That evening my father calmed me and advised me to submerse the shofer in water mixed with vinegar, and then wash it in clear water, and it would be kosher again. I did that and then I could let it rest.

* *

Zvhil was an intellectual center, even more a lively nerve–junction, for all Jews in the entire region, from which is stretched out intimate threads that reached all the members of the distant, far–flung Jewish settlement of the region. The Jews did not only take from Zvhil, they also gave it something, gifting it with good will and generosity.

Among the thousand threads that linked the village Jews to the Zvhil Jewish community must of course be mentioned the emissaries and trustees from the yeshive, those visiting the sick, rabeyim and so on. The emissaries came often and they were taken in with great honor, always finding not only a prepared table and a place to sleep but also an open heart and open hand.

Zvhil was also a life–center for the village Jews in all family matters. In each joyful and, heaven forbid, sad family event they turned to Zvhil. If a daughter grew up and found her perfect match they usually wrote an engagement agreement, and were satisfied with a near–by rov from Sokolov; but when the time came for the wedding, or shabes nakhamu, shabes b'reyshis or shabes shuve, one had to travel into Zvhil, where they sought out everything they needed for the bride, for the in–laws. The waiters were brought from there. Whoever made arrangements for the wedding and feast and also, not to mention them in the same breath, the rov and the musicians. For a usual wedding they made do with a small band of five or six players, but every bride from a well–to–do family dreamed of bringing in the famous fiddle player and leader of a big orchestra Zelig the musician himself. Zelig was our “Stempenyu” – what am I saying, no, he was our “Pagannini” – I can only use that name now, in those days we did not know that

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name. But that is how everyone felt. Only a wedding at which Zelig played was considered a beautiful wedding. When he started playing by himself and the orchestra was silent and let himself off on a roll – everyone became quiet and was amazed to listen to the bewitching sounds; everyone fell into their own thoughts, fantasies. Their ears took to the refined hum of the strings and their hearts trembled at the lamenting trill of the unfortunate shepherd who had lost his sheep, that had gotten lost in a thick forest and he could not find them. Every heart wept, privately, with him at the lost happiness, for the passing youth who had brought nothing with him, for children who died in their youth, at the loss of livelihood, at the overall pain of the Exile, no lack of troubles and it is sad and heart–rending. Then suddenly other inspiring sounds burst out, full of joy – the shepherd sees his sheep from afar and hurries to meet them in wild happiness, and a new mood rouses everyone, the depression passes and even while the eyes are still moist the heart beats with strengthened hope and belief in the future.


Mr. Zelig Gekhtman
(Zelig the musician)


That was the great power of the unforgettable Zelig the musician, who enchanted his listeners, shaking them with his fiddle doings in all the extreme feelings and also filling them with joy. That was during the “seating of the bride” when streams of tears poured from all the women after he played and also during the “golden broth”, until the end.

For many days after the wedding the sounds still echoed in the ears and stirred the

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hearts and the feelings that he had aroused. And a year later, when one mentioned previous events, small or important experiences – someone always mentioned Zelig the musician's wonderful playing at the weddings and celebrations.

And during any trouble that, heaven forbid, happened in any family, the village Jews always went to Zvhil. If the household peace in a family was disturbed, God help us, the children born were not thriving or if several years after the wedding the wife had not given birth to any children, where did one turn if not to the rebi? In Zvhil there were Hasidim of various rebis and each had his rebi to go to. But help from the rebi was far away and not everyone in a village had the money to travel to him during troubles: so the village Jew did not insist on a famous rebi and went to Zvhil's rebi Shleymele, who was also a holy Jew and had the power to help those who turned to him, and he strengthened them and promised mercy and God's help. And after paying a tribute and getting the rebi's assurances they turned home calmed and strengthened with the belief in God's help. And when sometimes the help really did come through, that strengthened the belief in the rebi's merit, and they brought a gift to the rebi themselves, a sack of potatoes, a pair of chickens and a little cash.

The village Jews also sought their medical help in Zvhil. Among the many thousands of the large village population there was not any medical help. And epidemic diseases often broke out. The first victims were usually the children, who could not be protected. A child suddenly started complaining of a headache or a stomachache, he probably grabbed something and ate it – so they gave him castor oil or called on old Khane who would conjure up a “good eye”. She rolled an egg on the warm forehead and whispered quietly, who knows in what language, and then broke the egg and poured it into a glass of water. The white floated up and made various faces and Khane could recognize in one of the faces, which of the witches it was, may their names be blotted out, and she conjured them away.

My father did not believe at all in that conjuring or in the “evil eye”. What is it with the child? Let a few days go by and see if sleeping gets better or worse. One must, no choice, travel to the town, to Zvhil. And if you cannot bring the patient on that difficult road, especially in the winter, and the doctor will not agree to travel out unless you pay him twenty–five rubles, and the phaeton also requires five or six rubles beyond the cost of the medicines – and not everyone had that – they brought back the barber–surgeon, an old man with a lot of practice in the tsar's military. He was also designated as a doctor and also wrote prescriptions, but he did not always help, in any case he never helped for us. All of my four brothers died in childhood. My unfortunate mother would wring her hands and in her wailing voice scream at everyone until she

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completely collapsed. Father would not cry, but his stony face and frozen eyes conveyed his suffering. His silent expression broke my heart more than my mother's tears. Father would then harness the horse, take the little laid–out body in his arms and drive him in to the town to be buried.

That was the last path of every village Jew in the province of Zvhil, coming to a Jewish grave and thus redeemed from all the usual problems of living among the goyim.

* *

Who are you, simple, naive village Jews, in whom there always beat a good Jewish heart, where are you now that you do not merit even to come to a Jewish grave? Wild human animals have reached you among the forests and fields and made an end to your life, spread your bones in all the filthy places and not left behind any trace of you.

You were healing widowers in your lives and such you remain in your death.

May your memory be a blessing – the memory of the thousands of victims from the holy, pure mother–home.


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