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[Page 150]

Wulf Goldarbeter

by Noach Eeroni

Translated by Elihu Romberg

His father Reb Pinchos was an ardent chassid (follower) of the Rebbe from Trisk. A great masmid (persevered in Torah study). He (Reb Pinchos) would sit complete nights in the old bes medrash (study hall) and learn.

It is said about him, that when he felt that he was about to succumb to sleep, he would stick a lit candles between his fingers, and he would stay awake when the hot wax melting would drip on his fingers. And thus he'd be awakened, and continue to learn (Torah) with a niggun (sing-song cadence) that would echo throughout the bes medrash chamber. By profession he would sell wood, and he had a warehouse of wood at the edge of town, by his house.

He was blessed with four sons and a single daughter; Wulf was the second son. Even when Wulf was just a child, Reb Pinchos would recognize his son's talents, and would “sweep” him along with him to the bes medrash to learn. No inclement weather- rain, snow, or storm- would prevent him to walk with his small son to the bes medrash. Also by his visits to the Rebbe of Trisk he would take his son with him in order that his son could “see” the Rebbe. These things (activities that his father involved him with) did not have any influences on Wulf at all.

When he (Wulf) grew up, he secretly gained access to books of the Haskalah (Enlightenment). He would peek into them, and slowly, slowly, he was affected by them. It is said about him that even when he was just a lad he perused “Guide to the Perplexed” of the Rambam (Maimonides). The day came when he left Alexandria and went to Odessa. It was during that epoch of the Hebrew writers/poets of the age of Haskalah; amongst these was Avrom Ber Gotlober who lived formerly in Rubna and was his (Wulf's) teacher and master. In Odessa he (Wulf) would also make the acquaintance of Moshe Leib Lilienblum.

Wulf returned from Odessa brimming with Torah and Haskalah, but the matter (Wulf's Haskalah) was not in accordance with the spirit of Reb Pinchos (his father).

After a short while, he (Wulf) married the daughter of Hirsh Leib Vinokur, and opened a store of (some kind of leather apparel?). However, from Smolenskin and... (Haskalah luminaries) and similar characters he (Wulf) didn't acquire knowledge required for matters of commerce and street smarts, and thus he was forced to soon liquidate the store, and decided to take up the profession of teaching. But not in Alexandria itself, but in an adjacent village, by a rich country Jew. But he (Wulf) wasn't satisfied there; his ambition was to “plumb the wells” of Alexandria- that is, to teach her children Haskalah, specifically. But this was not an easy thing to do. For which father would entrust his son into the hands of a Maskil (Enlightened) heretic? Everyone (in Alexandria) were Chassidim, and adherents (to tradition), and every parent's dream was that their son would be a Rabbi renowned throughout (the People of) Israel. Yet despite all that, he (Wulf) slowly began to gather to him students. The first (students) were from adjacent villages. Afterwards also from the city. A half year didn't go by and then there were parents who would turn to him and ask that he accept their children as well into his “cheder” (class), but more than eight students he didn't want to accept. From every student he requested four rubel a month. And with that he was satisfied, for his main endeavor was to spread the Haskalah movement in Alexandria. He taught everything: Talmud, Tanach, writing, and math. But above all he preferred to teach Tanach with the commentary of Mendelssohn, in the German language. Indeed, he was quite proficient in the language of Goethe and Schiller.

When I was accepted into his “cheder”, I was eleven years old, the youngest of the students. In the first days the “cheder” made a slightly depressing impression on me. The classroom was in the house of Gutya Herepin. To the right of the door stood the (couch?) and a table painted in red. In the corners two (benches?), and to the left a neglected, broken bed. Concrete floor, instead of planks, and in such conditions we had to sit twelve hours, from eight in the morning to eight in the evening. It was forbidden for the students to talk with each other. Every one learned by himself. Every student learned for (one hour? One and a half hours?). For lunch and dinner, one hour. Yet despite all that, when he (Wulf) began to teach, every student was attached to him with heart and soul. Even today I see him in front of me, with his noble appearance, his head flowing with black hair, his trimmed beard (goatee?), pleasant voice, in one hand a Tanach, and in the other (hand) a cigarette. Still (to this day) resonates in my ears his nice niggunim (sing-song cadence) with his fantastic translation. He had different niggunim for each book. For Job, Ecclesiastes, and Psalms were special niggunim, and likewise for the other books of Tanach. His translation for the verse “Hear, my son, the admonitions of your father, and abandon not the teachings of your mother” would arouse pain in the heart of every student, for maybe he had sinned towards his parents with his conduct, and thus failed to uphold the verse's admonition. We became attached to the language of the Prophets and the words of Mussar (ethical exhortations) contained therein. We were entranced by his explanations on the chapters of Psalms. Before every chapter he would lecture on the time and reference (historical backdrop) in which the Psalms were composed by “the pleasant composer of Israel” (King David).

There were times he would bring us to tears during the course of study of certain chapters of Psalms. Even until today they are engraved in my memory and in my heart... The style of learning Tanach aroused in every one of us a special affection for it. How joyous, when student grasped and understood his studies!

When we finished Isiah or Jeremiah, he gave us to read “Ahavat Tziyon” (Love of Zion) and other books. He taught everything “by heart” without assistance from printed material, since at that time there were still no available pedagogical manuals, except for “Art of Pedagogy” and “Garden of Playthings for Children of Jeshurun”.

After a year of study, it was already expected of us to write compositions in Hebrew. I remember once he (Wulf) received a letter from the Land of Israel with a dry flower. It was in winter: How great was his happiness, the hour he showed every one of us the flower. His love for the Land of Israel was felt most paramount, when he taught us Song of Songs, when he read the names of the flowers: Rose of Sharon, Lily of the Valley, etc. He would point out that in the Diaspora there were no such roses or the like. What a pity that he did not merit to see with his eyes that which he felt in his heart... He planted within us a love for our language, our land, and our people. And that was his reward, for all his days he lived in poverty in one room with his family members.

Not (in hiding) in the attic of the bes medrash or in the ezras nushim (ladies' section of the bes medrash) would we read our Haskalah books; rather, (we read them) in public. Under no circumstances would he agree to such demands of the parents, nor (to abstain from) teaching Tanach with the commentary of Mendelssohn. He would maintain his belief system above those he felt were lacking. Thanks to his pioneering teaching approach, others also began to teach Nach.

In later years he moved to Rubna, and there continued to teach. He had four sons and a single daughter.

(The author writes that both Wulf and his father Pinchos had four sons and a single daughter, which is quite a coincidence, or it could be the author is mistaken on one of those counts- E.R.)


[Page 188]

Reb Hirsh Lieb Vinokur

by Noach Eeroni

Translated by Elihu Romberg

He had a small house somewhere in the town with a large courtyard that was enclosed with a tall fence. Inside were building stones, shafts for wagons, brooms and all kinds of things that he would supply to sugar factories. He was a Jewish Talmud “chochom” (well versed in Torah knowledge) but conversant with worldly activities as well. Would give advice and resolve conflicts that arose between people. He would be engrossed in thought and would resolve issues easily. During prayers he would smack his hands together and simultaneously emit a “Ai-Ai-Ai” as if he had caught an angel.

There are stories that once when he was deep in thought, he left the synagogue with his prayer shawl in his hand, and arrived in the Polish village of Maidan, a distance of a few kilometers from his town. (He was so engrossed in thought, he apparently didn't realize where he was going). It was his nature to love people, and he was of a merciful disposition, and would turn to everyone with a smile and with simplicity. (He was not overbearing). When his economic situation slowly recovered, he would frequently offer acts of kindness to whomever requested it…it was said that he would most especially assist young folks who had not yet had a chance to secure themselves financially in the world.

On Yom Kippur Eve, he would contribute with a generous hand to the National Foundations and youth organizations. He would pour into the coffers with joy and with honor ten times the amount of the typical rich donor of the town. On the holiday of Simchas Torah, he would always join the Zionist (tziyoni) prayer quorum (minyon) and would drink “Lichayim” with all the youth. Afterwards, he would open with songs of Zion and join the singing congregation. When they began singing “Der mann sich nur, mein volk Yisroel dein alten Stalz” (My people Israel, your old pride). He would be filled with enthusiasm and raise his voice in song until tears filled his eyes. Then he would sweep along with him the whole crowd into an energetic dance.

One day in 1920, on his way to fill his water bucket from the “Well of Mordechai Yankels”, a bullet from the Poles hit him at a time when they were retreating from Aleksandria in the face of the Bolsheviks.

On his cemetery marker it is inscribed: Fell at the hands of a wicked Pole. HYD (May God avenge his death.) TNZVH (May his soul be bound in the bond of life.)

 

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