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[Page 157]

The Mirror of the Press

By N. Chinich

Translated by Dr. Samuel Chani and Jenni Buch

The lives of Jews of the last generations in Europe – their strivings, customs and way of life. Battles and wranglings, the pogroms saga, the bitter cup of sorrow that spills over with a few cups of joy and consolation is mirrored in the following pamphlets and newspapers. In the following the readers will find a mirror of the press – chapters of the life of Brest from before the Holocaust. We read in these excerpts short accounts of the day-to-day events and the extraordinary events, about organizational matters, political infighting, and the problems of the community and about and those who suffered from fires, destructions, and those who sought happiness in distant lands. We read of charity and education, institutions and their branches, of the first attempts to unify the opposing aid organizations. The efforts of our elders and brethren, of entire generations of Jews to protect themselves in their birthplace not knowing that the enemy lurked and the perils ahead.

The Economic Situation
7th Febuary, 1889

The number of Jews in the town is close to 25,000. The majority are tradesmen; they sit with idle hands because trade is at a very low level. The competition is very strong. Because of the shortage of bread the number of emigrants to the U.S. is increasing and those who emigrated complain of the difficulties of establishing themselves in their new land.

Rentals have been reduced because the poorer sections have left the town and the big houses have been left untenanted – not taking into account that half the town had been burnt down. The rich have dropped their hands (stopped activity) and commerce is not flourishing. Competition is growing within the small shops. One feels a great spiritual need, there are no library reading rooms for books.

The Emigration Overseas
Hamelitz, 1888

In the last two months over 100 people migrated to the U.S. and in the previous week 18 girls have left Brest.

Hamelitz, August 1888

50 families are ready to return to Brest from America. What has strengthened is the emigration to Argentina. 116 families are ready to leave – the Consul in Warsaw assured them that the first twenty men would be sent out to see the land and of those four would return at his expense. Those who agreed to this were Rabbi H.Z. Slonimski and the “Sphirah”. But Jews are an impatient race and not waiting for the reports, they all went
to Argentina.

The Security Situation
Hamelitz, May1888

There has been talk in the city about organized pogroms against the Jews. It was requested of the city's president to send guards. The peasants from the surrounding areas arrived armed with shovels and sticks. When they saw the guards, they turned back. Returning to their homes, a storm broke out, and in the village of Raveyevitch 400 sheep and cattle were killed because of the thunder and lightning – the Jews saw in this God's marvel.

Hamelitz, Elul 1892

Witnesses are talking of the great undertakings that have been established and developed over the last few years. For example, the house of the Talmud Torah in its great glory where hundreds of poor boys from the surrounding villages and towns are studying.
The hospital with its clean spacious rooms and run with wonderful efficiency. The houses for the Bikur Cholim (hospital). The Old Age home, the Visitor's Hostel
And various other houses whose purpose was to help those who have fallen.

August 1860

The expenses of the city's Birkur Cholim reach eighty roubles weekly, therefore the Tsar has donated a thousand roubles yearly. The rest comes from the charity of the town's wealthy. There are separate rooms for men and women, a specialist doctor - a Jew from Vilna, visits daily, and almost every sick person leaves the place healthy.

The synagogue board members who managed the hospital were Rabbi Leib Landau and the famous wealthy Reb Baruch Lieb. The Rabbi, the Righteous Genius, had in his own lifetime established a new Bikur Cholim Society for everybody that became ill – whether poor or rich. If two people came to his home and wanted a bed for the night, he would give one the bed for half the night, and the other the second half of the night.

The doctor would go to the homes of the poor sick patients; the funds of the Society would pay the doctor and pharmacists. For all their other needs the sick could apply to the Society funds for payments. The Rabbi, blessed be his memory, paying attention to the smallest detail organized this. Following in his footsteps were his children – the famous teacher Wolf Padua and his brother-in-law the famous rabbi and teacher Rottenberg.

Hamagid, 5th Kislev, 1878

Who is capable of describing the praises of the modern hospital where good order reigns?

There we find help and healing for the sick. It is already two years since it was founded in our city, saving the lives of our less fortunate brethren, weakened and without hope.

They receive food and clothing there. The Bikur Cholim Society supports all the poor people in their sickbeds. The Society sends a doctor to visit the sick in their homes daily, and authorises the pharmacists to dispense the medicines without money. Every month they dispense 1000's of prescriptions. How large is the charity of this society – widows, orphans and the poor costs 80 roubles per week. In the house of the Talmud Torah there are about 600 poor children, some learn Torah and some are being taught a trade.

The establishment of the “Gemilat Chassidim Society”
Hamelitz 1880

The leading citizens of the city: Rabbi Tzvi Hirsh Orchov, Myer Schwartz, Peretz Gordon and Tzvi Chaim Burshtein collected donations from the businessmen of the city and founded the Gemilat Chassidim Society which loaned money to poor people when they were in need. They managed to collect 4,000 rubles and on Tuesday at the rabbi's house they assembled the landlords and important people of the city to form a good and useful constitution and charter for the society. This valued society will bring relief to the poor especially when expenses are rising and earnings are small.

Soup Kitchen for Children
Hamelitz 1882

The women of Brest organized an institution whereby poor children received food.
These ladies: Sina Breindel, W. Haftig and Chava Salkind organised aid for the poor and pregnant women for whom there was also formed a free midwifery service. A doctor, medicines and food to strengthen them were also provided.

The New Society
Hamelitz 1887

A refuge for poor pregnant women. It has been over 2 years since the esteemed ladies founded a society whose aim is to provide speedy help and support for poor pregnant women. The expenses came to 30 rubles a month. Because of the difficult economic situation, donations have decreased. The heads of this society got together and appealed to the Governor of Brest for a deduction of a 1000 rubles a year off the meat tax – this was to help with the above cause. The Governor delivered this message to the City Council with the proviso that every month the council should receive an account of the society's income and expenses.

The society is called “Safehouse for Poor Pregnant Women” and the founders and administrators are: Chava Salkind, Liebshe Gvirtzman and Gitel Achavi.

The manager of the enterprise is M. Rubinrat.

Linat Tzedek Hostel

This undertaking is a branch of Birkur Cholim. Linat Tzedek does a great deal of charity work for all the sick, without differentiation between rich or poor. They sit at the bedside of the patient, straighten the bedclothes at night – this is also a voluntary institution including aid for widows and orphans. This society is conducted in the most orderly fashion supervised by dedicated people who give their hearts and souls to assisting poor widows and orphans. Before the High Holidays they distributed about 400 roubles amongst the poor.

All these voluntary institutions are grouped together under the common name of:

The Society for the Support of the Poor in Brest.

Shomrei Shabbat
Hamelitz 1883

Our religious brethren wholeheartedly support the worthy society of Shomrei Shabbat to which about 100 members belong. They have much satisfaction every Shabbat eve when they do their duty – going and calling out to shut the shops, chasing out the women who sell vegetables and rotten apples in the market – so that they can prepare for the sanctity of the Sabbath and rest from their labors. If it happens that these guards/police work was not polite and oversteps their limits – if they damaged the merchandise – if they were cursed by the shamed indignant red cheeked repeat offenders, they are still are our brothers - also David in the desert did not want to come to the land of milk and honey.

The Trial on the Question of reading Shir Hashirim
Hamelitz 1888

In Brest there took place a trial over the fighting which broke out over the question of reading Shir Hashirim. Some demanded that Shir Hashirim not be read in public on Shabbat Chol Hamoed Pesach, and a part demanded that it should be read. It erupted into blows until the intervention of the police; all the prepared sweet food was trampled upon.

The verdict was 8 days incarceration for the rioters and that Shir Hashirim had to be read.

A Dispute between Chassidim
Hamelitz 1888

Already three months have passed since the death of the Slominer Tzaddik. The Chassidim quarreled. They said let's follow the grandson of the Old One (the Slominer Tzaddik), because the honor (birthright) belongs to him. The others said let's serve the Tzaddik Rabbi Noah from Kobryn. A fight broke out on the eve of the Sabbath and the Shteibl (prayerhouse) was turned into a battleground. 60 windows were broken and the wives of the Chassidim also took part in the holy war. The men ripped the headscarves covering the heads of the women – in the end the matter went to court – to our shame.

Talmud Torah
Hamagid 1860

The Rabbi the Sage the righteous teacher Yakov Meier from Padua was the first founder of the Talmud Torah. The distinguished and learned Rabbi Nachum Neumark came to assist him. He bought a large piece of land and built a magnificent house on it with 25 classrooms. In every classroom there is a special teacher who teaches the students from early morning until late evening – each one in a different manner. Over them is a Head of Yeshiva who studies with the best pupils commentaries and chapters. In the court yard there is a separate prayer house where the teachers pray with the students. The teachers and students receive food from the management. Those who missed out on places in the Talmud Torah receive food 3 times daily from the Talmud Torah fund.

The 2 officials that head the Talmud Torah are the famous rabbi and teacher Rabbi Eliahu Menachem Birman and his deputy the learned and virtuous Chassid, Rabbi Lipa.

Over 400 students are in this establishment, which has no steady income and is maintained by donations of 100 rubles monthly. To this is added the 150 roubles yearly for light, which is supplied by the wealthy Moshe Feivelstein, and the famous rich benefactor Halperin supplies wood throughout the year.

A Proposal to Establish a Trade School
Hamagid 1860

Yitzchak Berenblum proposes to establish in Brest a trade school. “To learn a trade so that they can earn”. Every year the synagogue officials select several students from the Talmud Torah to become apprenticed to tradesman. The decision was difficult because there was no one to watch over the tradesmen that they should not abuse or overwork the children. The children were assigned to common tradesmen who often did not know their trades too well. When they finished this training period they were often not tradesmen and could not read and write in the language of the land. Several people have undertaken to form a special trades school, but the opposition is growing and there is a shortage of funds for the soup kitchen for the poor and visitors.

The Opposition to the Trades School
Hamelitz 1884

In our town which is outstanding for its' excellence and pious God-fearing Jews, there are also sinners amongst them who throw dirt on us from their accursed education. Over the last days there have been calls from our 'friends' to collect money to establish a trade school for poor children – who are our entire hope and from whom future teachers will arise ….

During the last Passover ruffians posted on the school walls large banners with the following words: 'The matter of posters for the establishment of a trades school.'

Brother Jews! You are all familiar with great suffering and frightening troubles which have come to us in the last four years in all the towns of our land. Our peace is disturbed and we are constantly hounded. Our friends have been transformed into our enemies – from all the corners of the land like sprouting grass in the field – our enemies who want to drive us out of here. They say that our existence is a burden on the country, and even if all that they proclaim is not correct, we cannot deny that we are not without these sins:

Usury. Deceit. Disgusting amounts of income.
We know that this is the result of bad upbringing – we have the opportunity to correct these faults. If we follow in the steps of the enlightened Jewish community in our land and establish a trade school in which the students will also learn holy teachings from pious and wise Jews who will pay attention to the moral standards and teach them the Russian language, arithmetic, etc. Through this our children will thereby reach a standard and will not have to, unlike their parents, resort to improper and dishonest means. We have enough money that we can also help those children from neighboring shtetls.

The tax (meat tax) that gives good incomes to those who are occupied with it will this year bring in 55,000 rubles. Of the three partners there is one who embodies a full European. On the High Holidays a liter of meat costs about 30 kopecks, the majority of the taxes goes to those whose have the controlling power and close the community doors without the payment of the 10 kopeck per liter levy. Our town derives little pleasure from that, although we are short of intelligent and courageous people who would come out in battle. Therefore we ask all the citizens of our town, whether small or great, merchant or tradesman to come out and lead the citizens of this town.

Zionism in Brest
Hamelitz Elul1908

In this famous city there are 'Chovevei Zion' (Lovers of Zion) and in no small number, but what have they done for the purposes and success of Zion? In this city that belongs to Zion, in which there are 30,000 Jews is there not even a small number who will sacrifice for this high ideal? Can there not be found at least one in the city and at least two in the family who will support the society and help those Jews in the Holy land?

Zionist Organizations in the city
Hamelitz 1884

Yitzchak Berenbaum informs us that the youth assembled and formed a group that was called Legs of the Messenger, which is a branch of Chovevei Zion. The number of members reaches 500 and each pays no less than 2 kopecks a week, for every 10 members there is an allotted collector. At the beginning of each month these collected monies are brought to the chairman of the society or his deputy and transferred through the hands of trusted people. On the past Erev Hoshana Raba, the members went to people's homes and over 50 rubles was collected.

The protest against the people of the colony of Zichron Yakov
Hamelitz September 1888

The frightening news of a disgusting deed, which the inhabitants of the colony Zichron Yakov have done against the officials of the Commissar who organized them, caused great heartache to those noble people who showed great courage, our unfortunate brothers. This news hit our hearts just as it hit the hearts of every righteous man who follows the path of truth. Not only because it was from the land of our forefathers whose names and memories are etched on every living person of our religion and nation, but also because of the ungratefulness which the inhabitants of the colony have shown to their supporters. Such a thing has never happened to Jews before. For all that has been done for the settlement in Eretz Israel and for our nation, and when we take in account the stones that were planted on this road – we cannot hold ourselves back and must come out with an open protest and declare that all our hearts are embittered by this lawless deed.

We cannot rest; the criminals must listen and be ashamed of their wrongdoings. Perhaps they will learn from this example and not return to this silliness and there will be peace amongst the Jews.

Signed: Rabbi Zev Wolf son of the Sage and Rabbi Yakov Meir
Arieh Leib Finkelstein, Benjamin Finkelstein, Yitzchak Meislich,
Avraham Mordechai Finkelstein, Yakov Duber finkelstein, Shmuel Finkelstein, Benjamin Vigdorovitch, Mordechai Rottenberg, Aharon Eliezer Ravnitsky,
Israel Leib Sulkes, Yosef Chesda, Alter Bocharsky, Joseph Eliezer Berlin,
Betzalel Yakel, Avraham Tzvi Minc, Mordechai Podva, Avraham Moshe the sage and rabbi, Baruch Pearlman, Yakov Asher Feinstein, Tzvi Hirsh the rabbi, Rabbi Mordechai Gimpel, head of the Beth Din of Ruzhany, Ben-Zion Neumark, Meir ben Yitzchak Goldstein, Yehuda Leib Zalkiner, Mordechai Sheinerman.

List of monies collected for Eretz Yisroel on Erev Yom Kippur 1888

The Opening of the Hebrew Club
Hasphira no. 266, 1899

In this year the Zionists celebrated the opening of a Hebrew Club. About 1000 people assembled in the Great Synagogue. The chairman of the society, L.Horoditz and the distinguished chazan (cantor) have made speeches to celebrate the occasion and a lot of bonds were sold,

The Society “Tifferet Zion”
Hasphira 1900

A year has passed since the formation of the Zionist society of Tifferet Zion. Its 50 strong membership consists mainly of workers and artisans, who meet for lessons that are conducted weekly. Five young and good teachers who teach without pay teach them . Each one teaches a chapter of Tanach for that week. They also teach various other subjects. Special praise must go to the teacher Volovelski who has spared no effort in establishing this society.

The Fire of 1858

We also, the citizens of Brest, have drunk deeply from the cup of sorrows. In one of our houses there broke out a fire that destroyed 70 houses full of goods and 130 wooden shops. In the morning, the whole community had assembled in the synagogue to pour out their hearts in prayer for the delayed rains. All of a sudden, the noise of the burning fire could be heard. If not for the city guards and their leaders who risked their lives in order to extinguish the flames, there would be nothing left of the city. The elders of the local fortress whose hearts were steeped in love for their local brethren battled to deny the Devil his victory.

The Fire of 1881

On the 28th July 1881, a fire broke out in the pharmacy. Within 6 hours 600 buildings had burnt down, shops, houses and one synagogue.

The Fire of 1888

Yesterday at 10 in the morning, a large fire suddenly broke out in the city near the river, which destroyed 100 houses. The inhabitants rushed to try and save their belongings, but were not successful – they were surrounded on all sides by flames and were forced to abandon their homes. The entire efforts of the firefighters were in vain… after 2 hours the whole district and part of the street adjoining the Great Synagogue were destroyed. A woman died of the terror. Hundreds of homeless families wander around under the open skies.

The Fire of 1901
Hasphira 134, June 1901

Over 500 beautiful buildings went up in smoke, leaving about 20,000 people without a roof. The commerce and assets of millions of rubles also went up in smoke. The rich and well to do are putting out their hands for help.

Thanks to the efforts of the respected people of our city, a committee fully authorized by the Governor Pashkov was formed, consisting of 5 high ranking Christian officials, with nobles standing at their side to oversee the aid to the victims of the fire. The following were the Jewish members of this committee:

Rabbi Nadel, Shteinberg, R, Shereshevsky, the banker Horodice, Finkelstein and the following businessmen:
Hirsh, Chaim Birshtein, Yosef Eliezer Berlin, Schatz, Fineberg, Morgenstern, Temkin,
and Vigdorovitch.
Within 5 weeks that this committee has existed, they have not shown much helping activity. Only 8,000 rubles are lying in the communal funds, apart from the subsidy from the Tsar, which has not as yet been collected.

R. Shereshevsky has proposed to make strenuous appeals to the ruling powers to revoke the ban on building factories and industrial plants with machinery, because the city abuts the fortress, which was of the highest military significance. Therefore it is not worthwhile for the residents to build buildings that will be empty of people (without employment).

2). After the first fire which broke out in our city 6 years ago (1895), all were convinced of the absolute necessity of buying water wagons in order to avoid such tragedies.

3). The committee found it essential to divide the city into 13 districts with 2 respected supervisors who will investigate and establish those who most urgently.need our help and support. This list was to be handed over to the committee who will determine the amount to be given.

Help for the Fire Victims
Hasphira 134, 15th June 1901.

Last Thursday there arrived in our city an important and respected guest – the Governor

He arrived in order to distribute amongst the victims the sum of 50,000 rubles that his Majesty the Tsar had personally donated.

The city dignitaries together with the Rabbis gathered in the main synagogue to bless the Tsar and the Governor, from the synagogue they then went to the town hall. Shereshevski took the position of treasurer in the kehilla without pay. From that sum, 15,000 rubles were given to soldiers and gentiles, the rest to the fire committee.

5,000 rubles were allocated for annual loans to businessmen without interest.

Help and Loans
Hasphira, 183, August 1901

The monies that the fire committee received came to 49,000 rubles, apart from the 10,000 rubles donated by the Tsar. The number of people registered for help and loans came to about 2000. 50 of these will get a loan of between 150 –500 rubles

These loans will be given to homeowners and merchants. Many small manufacturers will receive assistance of 10 –18 rubles each.

Those people who need housing will get it at cheap rates. The houses of the Society of Jewish Poor and those who live in the Talmud Torah school will get houses to rent for 25 –35 rubles a month per person.

Letter from Dr. Shershevski to the Editor of Hasphira
July 1901

Esteemed editor,

        Your letter containing the 1500 rubles was given to the committee for the fire victims.
Of this money, a sum of 500 rubles was given to a special committee consisting of the following members: Finkelstein, Horodice, Feinberg, and myself. This money will be divided between the teachers and pupils afflicted by the fire. I shake your hand for the honor and trust you have bestowed on me.

With care,

Dr. Yehuda Leib Shereshevski
27th July 1901

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