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Literati and Activists


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Folksy Personalities in Zvhil

by E. Uri

Translated by Tina Lunson

During the fire in 1919 the old town pinkes was also burned inside the big study–house – the pinkes in which all the important events of the town and surrounding area were recorded from time to time. Thus were lost many of the memories and details of the place and the great saints, the creators of Hasidism.

In the time of the Meziritsher Magid [preacher] one of the sons of Reb Yekhiel Mikhl Zlotshever, Reb Meyshe'le , who was called “The Pentateuch” – settled in town; he had received the “magidus” from the Meziritsher Magid and established the so–called “Zvhiler dynasty”, which had a great effect on the town. I only remember his grandson Reb Mordkhe'le, who generally confined himself to his little study–room and fasted often, absorbed in prayer and in study. He had a large influence on many circles in town. The shops and workshops closed for his funeral and thousands accompanied him to his final rest.


Rebi Shliam'ke

After the passing of the sainted Reb Mordkhe'le the influence of the dynasty fell and its natural inheritor remained in his youngest son, Reb Sleyme'le, who had recorded his saintliness and good characteristics. Without philosophizing about it he took in afflicted child orphans and taught and sustained them on his own account, although he was a great pauper himself and always lived in poverty. His influence was large in many Hasidic circles, which valued him for his honesty and modesty.

His modesty was particularly displayed in the pogroms of 1919, when the gangs ruled the town and terrorized it, and no one knew how they could persist or be saved; he concentrated around him the important persons of the time who in their death–throes sacrificed themselves and pacified the pogromists and prevented to some degree the loss of the town. His pure soul was shown especially in the following episode. In those days the pogromists demanded that the Jews turn over the bandit “Kitey–Bana” from the underworld, who had adapted himself to every power,

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and now to the Reds. He was hiding out in the town with the knowledge of many of the town residents. The pogromists threatened mass violence if they would not turn him over. Someone came to Reb Shleme'le to ask whether they should turn him over and so save the town from the fear of death. He answered them decidedly: “In such cases we are obligated by the court of Torah to go to be killed and not to turn over any Jew to death even though it causes us misfortune.” The questioners were decided by his response and obeyed him. In the end the pogromists found him themselves and brought him to the shul square and demanded that his brother Reb Mikhl'e should kill him himself. Mikhl'e refused to feel anything, ignoring all the threats and blows they poured on him. It went on a very long time until one of his friends, Khone the porter, could not bear seeing all the afflictions any longer and he shot him.

After the pogroms, with the fortification of the town by the Soviet powers, he managed to tear away from the town and finally arrived in Erets–yisroel. In Yisroel he settled in the old town and lived there modestly and did not reveal anything about his family. He went every day to the Western Wall – also during that time the Arab gangs were running wild in the narrow streets of the old town. He again gathered in his house the very ill, lunatics and lepers, also “wild children” whom no one cared for, and brought them in to the Talmud–Torah and provided for them on his own account even though he and his family often went hungry. During the war in Jerusalem and Balagerung's uprising, he often agreed to go out to the fighters and encourage their spirits and will to war. Among his close friends he also praised the “young” Arabs and fighters for their willingness to sacrifice themselves in God's name. And he often said that only those who themselves work and live from their own physical labor can achieve a kosher, proper life. He was also a strong proponent of Rav Kook of blessed memory. At his huge mass funeral all the rabonim, sainted leaders, teachers and masters took part, led by Rov Haroshey Hertsog; and he was designated as “saint” in the general press.


Rov Yoel Sharin – the “Genius”

He was one of the great spiritual teachers of his generation and had a large influence on various circles, including non–orthodox circles. I have already written about his influence on the town through the yeshive in my general list, and here I will only indicate a few biographical details.

He was born in Lokhvits, Poltav province, of poor parents. His father, a chimney sweep, did a lot toward his education. He excelled even in his early childhood and so earned the nickname “the Poltaver genius”, and the local Rov helped him travel to the then–great Volozshin yeshive. There he was especially taken under the wings of the geniuses, the heads of the yeshive, who

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supported him until be became a great scholar. At that time he received requests from large communities to be their rov, but he chose as his life–path to devote himself to spreading Torah scholarship through founding yeshives in the places where such study had not reached; he set out for Volin, which at the time was not yet well–known for its scholarship. He first established the yeshive in the town of Bereznits and then moved it to Zvhil under the name “Or Torah” [Light of Torah]. I learned his true nature during the time I was studying in that yeshive. I remember even now the all–night study that we, the teachers, used to make every week with the participation of dozens of industrious students. Deep in the night he would appear in the middle of the room that was filled with floating shadows amidst the surrounding darkness and listen to the sad Talmud melodies.

I do not know how he found out that I had begun looking into forbidden secular books but he began to talk with me about general literary matters and revealed something about his own soul. The poems that he wrote and his broad view about the national revival and the daily problems that were then awakening from the so–called “Tseirim”, the groups around Berditshevski in the fermenting Hebrew literature. He told me that after being in Volozshin he was close to the tight circle of Rav Kook of blessed memory and with them published several broadsides about “Khibat tsion”.

He, the “genius” had a rich, effervescent soul and deep thoughts. He traveled a good deal and was a frequent guest of Rov Mazah in Moscow and Rov Ayzenshtat in Petrograd and was interested in all the current issues in life. But at the same time he shuddered at the wantonness that was around and fought it strongly. I recall several of his appearances on the community stage in town at various crises that had a large influence. Many circles valued him very much. Even more he loved his pupils, who understood him and were captivated by his thinking and stormy spirit.

Yoel Sharin distinguished himself with his rich, feeling heart and broad views. He was interested in all manifestations of the world and Jewish communal affairs.

With the arrival of the Soviet powers in town and seeing the great danger that threatened the yeshive, he was taken to the nearby town of Korets, which was in the Polish zone. In time he also opened branches of the yeshive in Rovne, Kremenits, Dumbrovitse and provided for their existence. But the material and spiritual situation grew ever worse, and he became ill and went to Warsaw to recuperate. He died there on 11 Av 1927. Many yeshive heads and their students took part in his funeral in Warsaw. He was buried near the graves of the geniuses HNTsI”B and Rov Khayim Soloveytshik.

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Rov Dovid Beytsalel

He was a great scholar and an assiduous student, devoting his days and nights to study. In his middle age he devoted himself to the study of kabole and secret mysteries; he began to deprive himself and fast in order to refine his body, to reach the depths of kabole through suffering. He possessed a very tender soul and especially loved the simple laboring Jews – “amkho” – and shared what little he had with them and distanced himself from the “venerable Jews”, the shul leaders, the wealthy and the proprietors.

By chance he lived in my parents' house for several years and I could track his hidden ways and I marveled to see his modesty and simplicity, like one of the hidden lamed–vovniks [36 righteous who uphold the world] who also separated themselves from the ways of the many and swam in the mysterious world of kabole.

He used to get up in the middle of the night after only a short hour's nap and quietly climb out of the window so as not to make even a rustle that would disturb the others sleeping, and run, even in the cold nights, to the local river Slutsh and there immerse himself and then hurry to the nearby butchers' shul to study all night, until midday. Then he would have a bite to eat and have a short nap in his room, and then return to his study until late at night. What a peaceful freshness, an internal joy beamed from his face, his strong body and fine appearance, and what modesty and willingness he brought to his relationships with simple Jews who asked him for advice; and he left his scholarly study, sat with them, talked about their simple needs and taught them what to do.

In time he devoted himself completely to the poor working Jews, porters and water–carriers, who considered him their Rebi and he would leave his studies – which were really dearer to him that anything else – for hours and sit with them and teach, with a marvelous simplicity, the weekly Torah portion and Khuk yisroel [laws of Torah]. And in time he also came into closer relationships with great rabonim and dealt with them in deep studies or immersed himself in the difficult mysteries of kabole. And the “amkho” loved him and protected him from any detractors who wanted to completely abrogate him and disgrace him. But he was not shocked at all by the storms around him and did not stop engaging with them and taking part in their pains and their joys. He was a great personality with the deep folks–spirit of a saint of his generation and he illuminated the place around him.


Dovid Tsheskis – the Repentant

The elder son of the refined family Tsheskis, who spent his early childhood and teen years studying in the Hasidic study–house. During the stormy years of the Enlightenment he began to read the forbidden Enlightenment books and became a little of a heretic. An uncompromising heretic, except

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that he did not, heaven forbid, join the Enlightenment circles or join with his socialist brothers. But after a while he was disappointed and became repentant. He then withdrew from all material things, abandoned his family, wife and little children, and began to mortify himself with week–long fasts. He also used to throw himself on the threshold of the study–house and demand that those passing through – those heaven–fearing Jews – that they torture him with flogging in order to ease his sinful soul. He simply went mad. Children used to run after him and laugh at him with impudence. When he had calmed down, he could talk easily with others, with clear intelligence, in words of Torah, not at all like a lunatic. He provided for the study–house.

I recall one scene that made me tremble. As I was passing the study–house I heard heart–rending screams and going closer I recognized him lying at the threshold of the study–house, his clothes torn, his appearance and his eyes full of hellish wrath. He was shaking all over from deep agony and begging people to help him rid himself of an inner impurity and to raise him up. A group of people had gathered around him, especially attracting the children around, and he saw, it seemed, no one before him. His prayer was a true one, for inner purity, his soul was fainting with longing, seeking a purer content in life.

In his old age he and his family moved to Erets yisroel and settled in the old town of Jerusalem and he spent his last years at the Western Wall fasting and praying.

* *

A. Ludviful

Born in Kheshven 1866 in Zvhil, his father was Dovid Dub and they stemmed from an aristocratic family. He was educated, as all were then, in a kheyder and later in the Talner shul where his father was one of the well–known Hasidim. At the age of 16 he was enchanted by the Enlightenment movement. When those around him found that out, he was pursued and driven out of the study–house. After his release from military service he traveled to Odessa and there began his journalistic work at the Russian–Yiddish journal “Vaskhod” and also in the daily newspaper “Odeski Listak”.

It was the era of the “BIL'U” [pioneers] – the spring–time of the “Khibat–tsion” concept. And he dedicated himself to it with great enthusiasm and later, in 1890,

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traveled to Erets yisroel, but was not allowed into the land because of the Turkish regime of the red sign. He remained in the port city of Aleksandria, Egypt, where he worked for six months as a common port laborer and searched for a way to get in to the land. When he could not do so, he traveled on to Paris. There he began to teach at the Sorbonne University and became acquainted with the most distinguished intellectual circles. Then he began writing in the general press, “Ton”, “Figaro”, and also published a monthly journal “L'iku Zionist”. He simultaneously wrote for the Hebrew newspapers “Ha'tsfira”, “Ha'melits”, “Ha'dor”, “Ha'shliakh”. In the beginning of 1897 he was determined to visit Erets yisroel and from there he went directly to the First Zionist Congress in Basel.

In the time of the Dreifus Trial he took an active part in the defense of Dreifus and made good friends with those fighting for his freedom: Emile Zola, Henri Picard, Klemansa, Yosef Reynak and especially with Dr. Hertsl, Max Nordau and Bernard Lazar. He also wrote in the Great–Russian press. His article in the liberal newspaper in Moscow, the “Ruskoye vedmosti”, made a particular impression. He also published interesting monographs in the [Hebrew] almanac “Lukhes Akhiasef148; about Bernard Lazar and Nordau and in Russian about Hertsl and Nordau.

After the First Congress he took part in all the Zionist congresses until 1908, when he settled permanently in Erets–yisroel.

His main work was his founding in 1903 of the daily newspaper “Ha'tsifa” in Warsaw, which concentrated all the young journalistic powers and was then an exemplary modern and rich literary newspaper.

In Erets yisroel he took part in many community institutions and local presses as well as in the preparations for the elections to the first assembly of representatives. The outbreak of pogroms in Yafo in 1921 shook him badly and he could not recover from his embitterment; he died on the third day of the pogrom, 25 Nisan 1921 in Tel Aviv.


Shmuel Aba Pen

[Born] in almost the same year as Ludviful and studied with him in the Talner shul. When he was caught reading secular materials, he was driven out in disgrace. He went off to Zhitomir, intending to attend the rabbinic seminary. But he did not succeed at it and went to Odessa. There he excelled as a hard–working journalist in the general daily press, took a large part in Jewish communal affairs and was appointed as a [tsarist] government rabbi. But the local governor did not want to confirm him, seeing him as politically suspicious. And

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the Kiev governor did not want to confirm him as the Berditshev Rov after that for the same reason.

Then he was inspired, at the age of 40, to earn a diploma in law and quickly distinguished himself in that. He played a large part in various community trials, among them the legal deliberations during the Beylis trial [ritual murder accusations]. He simultaneously published articles in “Ha'shliakh”, “Ha'tsfira”, and “Lukhes Akhiasef148;, and also in the Great Russian press.

After the Russian Revolution he worked at the “YEKAPO” for the refugees and was elected as vice chairman of the Odessa Jewish Community Council and as delegate to the national conference in Ukraine. But soon he was arrested by the yevseksye. Meanwhile when the Red powers lost Odessa he decided to leave Russia and come to Erets–yisroel. Here he further took a prominent place in community life and was occupied with the daily “Ha'arets”, “Ha'poel ha'tsair”, “Kunteres”. He died on 26 Sivan 1923 in Tel Aviv.


Sh. Ts. Zetser

He was born in 1876. He recorded the memories of his youth from the Fayerberg era as published in book form as the Fayerberg Memoirs. He left Zvhil soon after Fayerberg's death and moved to Zhitomir. He published his first article “Kultura ivrit – kultura l'umit” in Frishman's “Ha'dor” in 1901, in which he debated Bernfeld. That same issue had the first of his articles “Anashim v'sufrim”, about Maks Shtirner and Frederik Nitshe. He then took an important role in the daily “Ha'tsfira” and in his literary assignments.

In a few years he moved to the Yiddish newspapers “Fraynt”, “Haynt”, “Telegraf” where he wrote under various pseudonyms. In 1912 he went to America and began to publish a monthly journal “Ha'tikhiye” which, because of the local situation there could not survive for long. From 1922 he began to publish the journal “Dos vort”, first as a weekly and later as a monthly publication.

His chief work, among them monumental works in several volumes for each book, were 1.) the general principles and rules regarding property law and criminal law; 2.) mercy, from the sources in the Talmud, Commentaries, RaMBaM and Zohar; 3.) the important figures and times in Jewish history, in four volumes; 4.) the rise of Christianity, in six volumes; 5.) Figures, critical articles about Bialik, Brener, Liensin, Breynin, Morris Rozenfeld, Nordau, Prof. Kahler, Zangvil and Y. A. Hurvits; 6.) stories from Reb Nakhman Bratslaver; 7.) Yehuda Ha'levy; 8.) Avrom Ibn–Ezra. He also translated into Yiddish sections of the Zohar, Commentaries, Mishne Torah, divine justice

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in infertility from RaMBaM. A special appreciation about his esteemed creation in separate articles and books.

When he was in Zhitomir he was also involved in Zionist organizational work and during the election to the Second Russian Duma, when they conducted a hard fight for a Zionist candidate in the election, Mr. Zshabotinski, he visited our town and ran a strong agitation for the Zionist slate.

His multi–branched literary activity was especially strong in recent years and in his last letter to us he wrote, “As if in defiance, new energetic springs have opened in me in my elder years. Every day new thoughts take shape in my mind that I can barely describe and the desire to study and investigate is renewed in me. But I cannot do this and they always fulfill my thoughts – until I accept that I am saturated with them. Thus I have no worries now – but they are for me ‘pains of love' that I like and long for.”

In recent times he dreams about coming to Israel. If only he can succeed.




Avrom Tsheskes

One of the most admirable figures in the Fayerberg circle. When he left the town after Fayerberg's death and arrived in Odessa, he was one of the regular visitors at Akhad–ha'om's house, who valued him and expected a lot from him. He also supported him materially for several years, and when he moved to Paris to study at the Sorbonne. He had been curious about Marxism since his youth and tried to base the development of the new Hebrew literature on the foundations of Marxism (in his article “Sifruteynu” in Frishman's “Ha'dor”, 1902).

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Earlier he had been active in the Zionist movement and taken part in the well–known Zionist conference in Minsk. Once he was in Paris he went over to the “Bund”. At the Bund's sixth conference (October 1905, in Zurich) he was elected to the Bundist TsK and also took part in the all–Russian Social Democrats' conference in Tanerkaks, Finland. When he arrived in Russia he was promptly arrested and held in the jail in Dvinsk. When he was released he worked actively in Warsaw as a member of the Bundist regional committee. He organized the elections and also took part in the Russian Social Democrats' conference in London. After the conference he settled in Paris, where he wrote a series of articles for the socialist scientific journal “Ribiu Sotsialisti”. He published a book in French on P. Lavrau. He also organized the league to “support Jews” with other respected socialist activists, and directed the monthly journal “Emancipation for Jews”.

At the beginning of the first Russian Revolution he returned to Russia and took part in much organizational work, was editor of the “Folks tsaytung” in Vilne. Upon the failure of the revolution he went back to Paris and returned to Russia at the beginning of the second revolution (1917) and then visited his elderly father Aron, and participated in several gatherings of the Bund. He settled n Kiev. At the beginning of the Soviet overtake he joined the Communist party but nevertheless declined to participate in the YEVSEKSIA actions. He later moved to Moscow as a docent in Moscow University. He was an editor of the [Yiddish] “Emes” [Truth, Pravda] and “Krasnaya nov” in Russian.

We are given to understand that he died in an automobile accident.


Yankev Yoseyf Vol

One of the first Hebrew teachers, who also founded the first good Hebrew library for us. He was born in Trisk and was educated close to the Trisk Rebi's court. As a child he studied languages and took many trip around Russia. He graduated middle–school in Baku and began to study in the university. After his marriage he came to Zvhil and joined Fayerberg's circle and after Fayerberg's death remained in town as a teacher, and took an active part in many cultural activities. After the pogroms in 1919 he moved to America and was occupied with pedagogical work in several schools in Boston and New York, among them the teachers' seminary in New York.

He began his literary work in “Ha'melits”, “Ha'tsfire”, “Luakh akhiasef”, “Ha'sufa”, “Ha'zman”, and “Ha'oylem” in Vilne. And in America in the “Ha'dor” yearbook for American Jews, “Mesad”, “Shbili–ha'khinokh” and also in the “Tsukunft” under various pseudonyms.

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He died on 10 Nisan 1954 in the midst of his work of publishing his writings, which then appeared after his death under the name “Shtey reshoynes”. More about his literary work in the article by Sh. Halkin.




Ezra Brakhman

One of the important members of Fayerberg's circle. He was born in the village Horobishtse and educated by his grandfather in Zvhil. In his later years he moved to Odessa, studied at the university there and then at the Sorbonne in Paris.

During the years of the first Russian Revolution he was in the Bund and was arrested several times and spent several years in the Shlislburg fortress.

He was disappointed in the years of the reactionary triumph and abandoned the Bund, became a non–party man, but devoted himself to important social work for the folk, particularly in the field of economics.

In the early times of the Red–revolution, in the terrible civil war, he fulfilled an important task as manager of the food and nutrition department in Moscow and its immediate environs, and so knew the top government people well as he did not belong to the Communist party.

He died in 1928 in Moscow. More details about him in Sh. Roznfeld's article.


Borekh (Buzye) Tsheskis

A well–known member of the SR Central Committee, he began organizing with his friend Nusye Kaplan and led the SR circle in town. He excelled with his rich intellect and many–sided education and enchanted everyone with his effervescent nature, love for struggle and folksy dealings and friendship with the working classes.

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Borekh (Buzye) Tsheskis


His main work at the time was in Kiev and later in the Caucuses. In 1908 he was arrested in Baku as chairman of the Caucuses Regional Committee of the Socialist Revolutionary Party, and was in jail with Yosef Stalin and then deported to indefinite imprisonment in Siberia. He escaped from there and went to France and served as an officer in the French Army in the First World War.

After the outbreak of the second Russian Revolution he arrived back in Russia during Kerensky's rule and devoted himself with his usual enthusiasm to the revolutionary work. He visited our town again. Soon after his return the Bolshevik Rebellion broke out, and as a suspicious person for his activity in the SR, had to disappear underground and moved from place to place. But he was soon arrested and was held in the infamous fortress “Batirke”. In 1927 he visited his brother Yoseyf Tsheskis during his visit to Russia and was already very depressed, suffered physically after his many brutal interrogations and expressed his full despair that the so–called “social revolution” was only a bloody farce among all the struggles and dreams of the previous revolutionary generations of fighters and dreamers in Russia.

He was soon liquidated by the Red forces, as were many other central SR figures in that big bloody liquidation.


Ayzik Arbetsman

One of the folksy Jews, deeply rooted in the old and also the new Hebrew and Yiddish literatures. Gifted with clear thinking and a sharp humor and was devoted heart and soul to a functional Zionism.

He had a small workshop for paper production and worked

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very hard himself; but at the same time he was strongly devoted to his folk–work, particularly in the area of culture. Together with Mr. Vol and Yoseyf Gilber he founded the improved library and carried out a sharp argument with the orthodox circles about the educational methods in the Talmud–Torah. There was no Zionist work that he did not dedicate himself to.

He also had a large influence with his broad views and enthusiasm for our intimate “Tseri–tsion” circle. I still remember his splendid appearance with the wide forehead of a Talmud scholar, his lively black eyes and black beard, when he used to raise the question of the worker exchange with us, really young ones at that time, and conduct heated discussions that really never ended, with his sharp humor and clear senses; and discussions that he later continued with us at his workshop, where he would work and arouse us to do further folk work.

After the pogrom days in 1919 he left the town and went to America. More about his activities elsewhere in the anthology.


Dr. Targovets

He was devoted to the people and a faithful idealist. As a well–known doctor he was distinguished with his good heart and self–sacrifice for all classes of society – especially for the poorest people, whom he treated for free, sat with day and night and often also left a little money under their pillow to buy a medication or some food. He also often concerned himself with their occupations even after they were healthy again. Everyone loved him, trusted him, despite his frequent fatherly threats and demands with mock anger for a more enterprising spirit from them.

For all the earlier years he was a Zionist of the “People's Democratic Faction”, taking part in various regional conferences and also in the convention in Minsk. But in the first revolutionary years he joined, temporarily, the Bund, suffering and also being beaten by the police. During the time of the reaction he left the Bund and remained outside any parties, but later he was ready, as before, to bring his help to anyone who needed it.

Along with him, his sister Olga was distinguished with her stormy nature and rich intellect. For more about them see Sh. Roznfeld's article.


Dr. Kenigsberg

He was one of the well–known important doctors in the town and surrounding area. He was noted for his good qualities. In his youthful years he left the yeshive and took the qualifying examinations as an extern to study in the university. He did not stop studying Talmud and the Commentaries during that time and remembered various interpretations and regulations.

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When he visited scholarly homes he participated enthusiastically in legal arguments, in particular in matters of impure and pure which were close to medicine.

In those days there was a debate in the Russian press about outlawing Jewish ritual slaughter and the famous book by Prof. Khvalson was published, and caused a great disturbance. A book by dr. Y. L. Katsnelson about “impurity and purity” also appeared around that time – health systems in the Talmudic laws. Dr. Kenigsberg, as a doctor, was drawn to Dr. Katsnelson's explications about the medical knowledge of that time, and often got into deep discussions about it during his visits. He also upheld the religious customs and the shabes.

He was distinguished by his sharp–minded, quick and deep comprehension and by his good qualities. He did not usually take money from his poor patients and also left them pocket–money for their further improvement. He was a rare folks–mentsh, despite the fact that he did not take part in any community affairs.


The personnel of the Jewish hospital “Bikur kholim”, 1917–1919


Dr. Ostrovski

Dr. Ostrovski was an energetic folks–mentsh. Being a general social democrat he often joined in the first Russian Revolution with the Bundist circles, and in many kinds of social and cultural work. At the beginning of the second Revolution, in the Kerensky era, he was elected as chairman of the democratic community, as the representative from the socialist bloc. At the time of the pogroms in 1918 to 1919 he was very active

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in the local help committee of the “Joint” [Joint Distribution Committee] and was concerned with constructive help. He was especially concerned with the area of medicine, being one of the region's best doctors and director of the Jewish hospital “Bikur kholim”, which he was concerned for and brought to a higher level. In the time of the horrible pogroms and typhus epidemic in the above–mentioned years, he longed to find means of rescue. He was also very concerned for the orphans in Zvhil and later in Rovne until they left for Erets–yisroel.

He was a pure, true personality and was treasured for his good deeds in many circles.


Leaders of Charity and “Anonymous Donors”

The old Peysakh Kutman (Peysi Pini Mordkhele's), a Talner hasid, excelled in matters of charity. His house was always open for all those in need.

Many legends circulated about his good deeds and also about his death, as he was killed in the pogroms in 1919 during the time when the Russian Army fired into and burned the town from the other side of the Slutsh River. Sh. Ts. Zetser has written separately about his good deeds in the anthology.




Mr. Leyb Rotnberg

One of the hidden masters of charity who sought out the hidden impoverished and sent them, week after week, his offerings of their necessities – that was Leyb Rotman. He was the hired overseer of a watermill in the nearby village Aleksandrovke and would often come into town, investigate the situation of the needy people – so–called hidden ones – and

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deliver flour and wagons of wood and also cash. His well–to–do, intellectual house was open for many needy people and each one who found a way to his good heart was sure of his constant help. He was marked by his great sense of justice and honest dealings in all his businesses, which he conducted on a large scale and he excelled with his modest way of life.

He transported that way of life to America when he came here, after the pogroms of 1919, and settled with his children in Boston; although in his later years, not the person of importance and reach that he had when he was the master of his own home.


Mordkhe–Shmuel'ik of the Underworld

Of all those who are passing through my memories – fine Jews, scholars, masters of charity, honest merchants, men of deeds who were marked by their sense of justice and truth; artisans and the hardworking, toiling people of the simple Jews, the water–carriers, porters, butchers, pelt–workers and small traders from whose material appearance shone out pure, clear Jewish souls that often delighted one – it is worthwhile to mention the leader of our underworld, who in his deeds also revealed a Jewish soul.

Then he was in his younger years, always sharply dressed and holding himself in haughty dominion over his gang, because he always knew a lot of things from the “hidden world” that others could not conceive of and the more distinguished Jews often resorted to him. He was the leader of the gang “igey–kapayim” [“manual workers”] as they were called, and all the horse thieves and pick– pockets trembled before him and obeyed him in an hour of trouble. He kept an eye on them so that they would not be tempted to steal from the working Jews, artisans and the poor. And when that did happen people turned to him and he knew how to get the stolen property back and return it. He also laid a threat on the thieves that they should remember that incident and not repeat such a thing again.

He also came frequently to the yeshive when it was still below and took pride in the pupils and their Talmud chanting; and he supported them with a certain sum of money each week. Before he went off to his “igey–kapayim” work he came to the yeshive to pray. Various circles related to him, despite the fact that they were also afraid of him, knowing his occupation.

I still remember when he used to appear at the big market fairs in his riding breeches, high polished boots, distinctive hat with a gleaming visor and a whip in his hand, and watched, from a distance, the work

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of his students among the noisy peasants. And often, when the peasants got to drinking and began to fight among themselves, and the Jews in the market began to tremble and started packing up their merchandise, he could – with a special signal – call all his troops together and they quickly over–ruled the fighting peasants and brought order and peace to the crowd. Thus he more than once protected the market from peasant attacks.


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