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[Page 208]

The General Assembly of the Loans and Saving Fund

by Sh. Weissberg

Translated by Pamela Russ

Donated by Elliot Goodman

The number of members that existed as part of the Loans and Savings Fund towards the end reached 1,400. That means that almost all of the wage–earning people of the middle class and the craftsmen were registered in the fund, which dispensed help to them from the Bessarabian Cooperative Union in the form of loans in order that they would be able to manage or expand their businesses.

Therefore, it was no novelty that almost the entire population so warmly drew themselves to “our seat,” and the annual general meetings invited a general interest, and with that presented a great event in the societal life of Britshan. Not only did you hear the report of the administration, but you could also critique its activities, put forward complaints, offer an idea, contribute to all kinds of decisions, and, most importantly, elect a new administration…

For these few days that the meeting took place, the city was on wheels. The entire city would attend the meetings that took place in Moti Kremer's room, from child to elder, and no one grew tired from sitting until the late hours of the night. Generally, the meetings were not particularly quiet, and the debates were often heated, sometimes even confrontational. I especially remember two stormy meetings:

  1. For the five–year anniversary of the fund, a suggestion was put forth to honor the commendable chairman of the fund, Boris Shulman, and to inscribe him in the Golden Book of the Keren Kayemet. Here a terrific storm erupted. The anti–Zionists put forth a great resistance. The meeting looked like a broiling sea. But with great effort, the representative succeeded in bringing the suggestion to vote, and it was accepted by a large majority.
[Page 209]
  1. At one of the meetings, the director of the Cooperative Union announced that according to the bookkeeping review, it seemed that the bookkeeper had not correctly calculated the percentages of the savings and paid out two percent instead of two–and–a–half percent. According to him [the director], the bookkeeper had done this to show greater profits for the fund in order to justify his own request for a higher salary. The director said simply that the bookkeeper should be fired from his job.
It is impossible to describe the rage that suddenly erupted in the meeting; they demanded that this request be carried out. Only a few people actually realized that what was going on here was criminal, and that an entire family could be destroyed. They tried to calm the enraged crowd, but to no avail.

Then, the author of these lines [Sh. Weissberg who wrote this article], as chairman of the review committee, took upon himself the heavy task of defending the bookkeeper. He cited quotations from former protocols where the bookkeeper was praised by the representatives of the union for his good and loyal work. If he stumbled now, it was not yet proven that he did so with bad intentions. He appealed to human conscience and to the Jewish heart and asked them not to be the hangmen for a Jewish family.

His appeal was successful and the mood was completely altered. And when Chaim Swarcz tried once more to rouse the crowd against the bookkeeper, they simply did not permit him to speak. The bookkeeper kept his job.


Rabbis in Britshan

by Khaim Milman (New York)

Translated by Pamela Russ

Donated by Joseph Rosenthal

Britshan was exceptional with its rabbis, such that even larger cities would have been proud of these.

The first Rav that I heard about from many elderly Jews was Reb Borukh'el, of blessed memory. Other than being a Torah scholar, he was also very knowledgeable in worldly matters. For that reason, he was often called upon to be the arbitrator in the greatest disputes. Even non–Jews or farmers would eagerly rely upon his legal judgment.

Because he was childless, before his death he brought over a relative from Nikolayev, Reb Iczyk'el, to take his place. Reb Iczyk'el was tremendously sharp, but he was …

[Page 210]

 

bri210.jpg
Chaim the scribe's – HaRav [the Rav] Milman (New York)

 

… with us for only a short time, and in his place there came Reb Daniel Finkensohn, who acquired a reputation with his intellect and refined interaction with the people.

Other than Reb Borukh'el, there were two other rabbis with us, Reb Yenkele and Reb Yehuda'le.

Reb Yenkele (Sztajnhoiz) had the reputation of being a genius. They said about him that he knew the entire Talmud and commentaries by heart. Also, he was very famous for his righteousness, and the people crowned him with legends.

Reb Yehuda'le (Rabinowycz) was a rare intellect and a great scholar. One can say about him that he sat [existed] only for Torah and Divine service. He learned [Torah] both day and night. He was also very religious and almost completely removed from worldly matters.

When Reb Yehuda'le, of blessed memory, died, his son, Reb Sholom Rabinowycz, of blessed memory, who at the time was Rav in Leowa, New Bessarabia, took his place. He inherited a lot from his father in his religion, and he was also a great scholar.

After Reb Yankele's death, his grandson, Reb Hershele took his place.

Reb Hershele (Sztajnhoiz) was a scholar at a high level …

[Page 211]

… and a deep thinker who knew well the Jewish philosophy works of the Middle Ages, such as Maimonides, Reb Judah Halevi, and others. He was cut of the old cloth, but also explored the Haskalah books [works of the Enlightenment], and the books of the new Hebrew literature. After his death, the position remained empty. None of his sons wanted to take over the rabbinic seat.

Reb Daniel Finkensohn's place was taken over by his son–in–law Reb Dovid Kopliwacki of Kofrest [Kapresht]. He was with us for only a short time because after his father's passing he returned to his place of birth and there became the Rav.

At that time, we took on Reb Iczyk'el Bik from Mahilew–Podolsk as the Rav. Reb Iczyk'el was known in the entire region for his scholarship and for his wisdom. In addition, he was also a refined person with modern views and also devoted himself to society work. He soon left our town because his compatriots in the United States invited him there.

After a lengthy search, the rabbinic seat in Britshan was taken by HaRav Yakov–Shimshon Efrati, of blessed memory, who quickly became beloved in all populated regions because of his humble behavior and his caring for community issues. He was also active in Zionist work and founded the “Mizrachi” organization in our town. He and other martyrs tragically died in the expulsion.

Khaim Milman (New York)


Moshe Kizhner (Moshe Reitzes),
May He Rest in Peace

by Khaim Milman (New York)

Translated by Pamela Russ

Donated by Joseph Rosenthal

One of the most respected personalities in Britshan was Reb Moshe Kizhner, who was called Moshe Reitzes, which was the name of his mother–in–law Reitze, a well–known grandmother (Heibom) in the city.

Reb Moshe was filled and sated with the study of Talmud and the commentaries, and mainly a scholar of the Torah and grammar. He was one of the first of the Maskilim [“Enlightened” ones, follower of the Haskalah movement or “Enlightenment”] in our city, a man of great capacity, with a sharp mind and a phenomenal memory. He was known not only in Britshan but also in many near and far off cities, and often various writers would come to him to request his endorsement for their work, as it was done at that time. So it is no novelty that all our “enlightened” ones considered themselves to be his disciples.

Moshe Reitzes had a large home in the open market [bargain center of the marketplace, tarhowycze], …

[Page 212]

… an inn, which was managed by his dedicated wife Rokhel, a smart, hardworking woman, who did not rest from daybreak until sundown. Reb Moshe himself had his own important affairs: Besides being a teacher, he was also involved with legal arbitration [in areas of religious law] and with politics. His home was a real community house for intellectuals. There would gather the real elitists of the Haskalah intelligentsia. There were discussions on all kinds of subjects, and they also addressed worldly and local topics. Nothing took place in the city without being first discussed in his home. A quiet Jew, discreet, with large eyebrows that gave his face a stern look, with a sparse beard that he constantly pinched. He would listen to the arguments very carefully and thoughtfully look at those around him with his short–sighted eyes, and at the end, he would blurt out: “Phew! Are you finally finished? It doesn't even make sense. You don't even know what you are saying!…” And with a few select words he dismissed all the talk and proofs that were brought up, and gave his thoughts that were often very original.

Reb Moshe died relatively young, hardly more than 55 years old. After a difficult arbitration that he had, he developed a blood clot in the brain and remained paralyzed and without speech. His son Wolf had to interrupt his studies in Odessa and come home to take care of his sick father who died after two years of terrible sufferings, on the eighth day of Shevat, 5665 [January 14, 1905].

Khaim Milman (New York)


Moshe Rosenblatt,
A Friend from My Youth

by Avrohom Goldgehl

Translated by Pamela Russ

Donated by Joseph Rosenthal

In our town of Britshan, in all corners they talked about a wonder–child Moshe'le, and that's how he was described, because of such love.

When he was ten years old, he already knew almost all of Tanakh [Torah, Prophets, and Writings] by heart, and there wasn't even a single difficult word in Tanakh whose location he could not identify.

When he was thirteen, he already wrote poems [songs] for each Jewish holiday, for the High Holidays, with the main rhymes using his name and his father's name “Khazak” [“Be strong!”], following the style of the poets of former times.

He studied Gemara [component of the Talmud] and the commentaries [“ Tosfos”, elucidations of Gemara] and other exegetes with the best teachers and with the city rabbi, Rav Yehuda'le, of blessed memory. The “enlightened” people in the city, seeing in him a great talent of writing songs in Hebrew, …

[Page 213]

… convinced his father Yosef Naftali's, to send his son to the “enlightened” teachers who were then in Britshan, such as Reb Moshe Reitzes, Reb Moshe Yakov. And the father agreed to do so. And that's when a new era began in his life.

From them he learned that other than Gemara and commentaries, there also existed Haskalah books and philosophy books of the old literature, such as Maimonides, Akeidat Yitzkhok [“The Binding of Isaac”; author: Rabbi Yitzkhok Arama, Spain 1420–1494], Sefer Haikarim [“Book of Principles”; Rabbi Yosef Albo (Spain 1380 – 1440)], and also from the new literature, such as Reb Yitzkhok Ber Lewinson, and so on. And also the classics, such as Mapu,[1] Smolenskin,[2] Gordon,[3] and so on. And he was very caught up by them …

 

bri213.jpg
HaRav Moshe Rozenblatt

 

… and he swallowed up the books of the new literature day and night. He read the Hebrew newspapers of that time, “Hamelitz” [“The Judge”; the first Hebrew newspaper to appear in Czarist Russia], and “Hatzefira” [“The Siren”; the first Hebrew newspaper to appear in Poland], for which he soon became their correspondent, and used to send them his songs and the news of the town, which they would print right away.

He became a dreamer and a fighter for a new Jewish life of light and civilization, and tried to eradicate fanaticism and ghetto life, to eliminate darkness and superstition. Often he would stand up against the Hassidim and fanatics in the synagogues, and he used good weapons [tools]. He showed, through the writings from the Khazal [sages], the Talmud and commentaries, Maimonides, Ibn–Ezra, Abarbanel, Reb Saadia Gaon, and so on, that the Haskalah is a twin sister to the Jewish faith, that Jewish belief is so true and strong, that there is no fear of philosophy and education. He used …

[Page 214]

… the books of Reb Yitzkhok Lewinson, “Teudah Be'Yisroel” [“Testimony in Israel”], “Bais Yehuda” [“The House of Judah”], “Divrei Shalom Ve'emes” [“Words of Peace and Truth”], and from Reb Naftoli Hertz Weizel, and others, which Moshe'le practically knew all by heart.

He became an active worker and youth leader. At that time when the “enlightened” Jews [Maskilim] from our town, those such as Reb Moshe Reitzes and Avrohom Kleinman, took it upon themselves to spread the Haskalah among the youth, “Moshe'le” was their right hand and helped them very much in their work.

He threw himself into the work with a fire and enthusiasm. When the above–mentioned Maskilim decided to establish a Hebrew library so that they could provide the youth with an opportunity to read all the Hebrew books of that time, they understood that for this job they had to have no other than our Moshe'le. And that's how it was. They were the initiators and Moshe'le was the one to take this from idea into reality. They gathered all kinds of Hebrew books from the Maskilim in the town and bought new ones from the publications “Toshia” [“Insight,” Hebrew language publishing house, Warsaw 1896], “Akhi'asaf” [“Collections,” first modern Hebrew publishing house, Warsaw 1893], and others. The famous community activist and Maskil Reb Avrohom Kleinman gave us a room in his house for this project and Moshe'le organized us so that every day at a set hour one of us would sit there and exchange books for the readers. He received endorsements for the Hebrew newspapers “Hatzfira” [“The Siren”], “Hamelitz, [“The Judge”], and journals such as “Hashiluakh” [“The messenger”], and so on.

He became famous because of his good deeds in our entire region of Bessarabia, and also in Podolye.

In each town that he came to, he asked to search out the astute young men, and to awaken in them an interest in the Haskalah and also to infuse them with his enthusiasm. There are living witnesses with us here in America, great Hebrew writers, who will attest to the fact that only thanks to Moshe'le were they able to arrive to the point they are today.

He began writing in the newspapers “Hamelitz” and “Hatzfirah” already as a young man. He established the first groups “Safah Berurah” [“Pure Language Society”] and “Dovrei Ivrit” [“Hebrew Speakers”] in our city and in the surrounding towns.

He made the stones of the city speak Hebrew.

Each evening, when he saw a group of young people strolling in the street speaking Russian, he quickly mobilized his army, the group of “Dovrei Ivrit,” among whom I too had the honor of belonging, and set us up into a chain, and we walked side by side with the Russian speakers, and we spoke a lively Hebrew so that we outspoke them in volume. “On a Jewish street,” Moshe'le said, “one must hear Hebrew, not Russian.”

[Page 215]

On Shabbat, he would run around to the synagogues and Houses of Learning [“Batei Midrashim”] and give speeches in Hebrew. He worked hard to give life to the “Kheder Metukan” [“Improved School”], where the studies were all done in Hebrew, even though he had to endure persecution from the opponents.

Today, his community work in town is for the benefit of the poor!

One cannot describe all his self–sacrifice and his running around day and night to help individuals, and unseen, unknown needy people.

Each year before Passover, he organized all the girls and boys. We ourselves would bake matzo for the needy who received the matzo at a cheaper price and sometimes even for free. Moshe'le would take some of his friends, go to the wealthy people in town, and receive money, even sometimes not so easily. Some gave him money out of respect, some out of fear, and Moshe'le threatened that he would write about them in the newspapers.

And then, God have mercy, cholera broke out. People died like flies and the doctors put out a declaration: Volunteers should come forward to become 'sanitation' assistants, to give medicine to the sick, and provide massages. Understandably, Moshe'le was one of the first, and worked day and night with true self–sacrifice.

His father saw how his son was so occupied with communal work and had little time left to study. So he forcibly removed his son from all this and put him into the old court so that he could study Gemara, Rashi [commentary] and the medieval Talmudic commentaries.

At that same time, our own Rav, HaGaon [“the genius”] HaRav Yehuda'le, of blessed memory, constantly sat and learned there. When the Rav saw him [Moshe'le], he did not let go of him and studied Mishna and commentaries with him, and prepared him for the rabbinic seat.

And there was rumbling in the streets:

“Moshe'le is not here!” He was missing at each and every step. They really did try to remove him from the court, but his father did not permit this. One thing did remain, his work for Khibat Tzion [“Lovers of Zion”], for which he worked even from within the court. At that time he already distributed circulars of Rabbeinu Shmuel Mahilewer, of blessed memory, and his secretary HaRav Yitzkhok Nisenboim. He was the one who placed notices of “settling in the Land of Israel” near the wash basins on the eve of Yom Kippur, and all day ran from synagogue to synagogue and worked with all his energy.

He impressed upon a wealthy man in the city, Hershele Stajnberg, to become the director of “Chovevei Zion” [“Lovers of Zion”], and other wealthy men from town were also influenced by Moshe'le and were attracted to the idea of “Khibat Zion.”

[Page 216]

When Moshe'le found out about the book “Medinat Hayehudim” [“The Jewish State”], which Dr. Herzl had published, and that the First Zionist Congress was to take place in Basel, neither his father nor his teacher, HaRav Yehuda'le, of blessed memory, could detain him.

He forcibly left the court, and leaving the close proximity of Jewish law, he threw himself into the nationalist work with the entire force of his soul. He did not eat, he did not drink, he did not sleep, he ran around to the schools, and did not tire from speaking and arousing. “No Jew,” he shouted, “is allowed to stay outside the camp of Zionism.” He himself wanted to go on foot to Basel. They detained him with great difficulty.

But our town of Britshan, thanks to him, became the center point of a Zionist environment (and Dr. Kohen–Bernstajn, the Zionist director of Kisinew attested to the fact that Britshan stood above Kisinew and other large cities with its sales of Shekalim [membership cards of the Zionist organization] and activities of the Colonial Bank [The Jewish Colonial Trust Ltd., established by Dr. Herzl at the Second Zionist Congress in 1899, the predecessor of the Anglo–Palestine Bank], and with the interesting responses to his circulars, which he would receive from Britshan in the “Pocztowa Czenter” [“postal center”].

When Herzel spoke of “Kibush Hakehilot” [“Conquest of the Communities”], Moshe'le wanted to actualize this in his lifetime, and he helped establish the Zionist school “Shaarei Tzion” [“The Gates of Zion”] in Britshan. This served as the center of Zionism, Haskalah, and all community activity. And so, Moshe'le, still a young boy, with his iron will and great soul, put into effect all these ideals in our town.

When Britshan became too constricted for him, he searched for a place of work for his Zionist, nationalist, and Hebrew activities. So he left Britshan and moved to Kiev.

He went there under the recommendation of Dr. Kohen–Berenstajn, and there became the right hand for Professor Mandelstam, who was at that time the world treasurer of the Shkalim and activities of the Colonial Bank.

That's when the activities of our Reb Moshe'le really began with all the national demands, with giant amounts of boundless energy.

He and Professor Mandelstam went to the congresses and conferences, and he, being in Kiev for more than one quarter of a century, made history.

Avrohom Goldgehl

Translator's Footnotes

  1. Abraham Mapu (1808 – 1867) was a Lithuanian Jewish novelist in Hebrew of the Haskalah movement. His novels later served as a basis for the Zionist movement. Return
  2. Perez Smolenskin (1840 or 1842–1885), Hebrew novelist, editor, and publicist. A leading exponent of the Haskalah in Eastern Europe and an early advocate of Jewish nationalism. Return
  3. Shmuel Gordon (1909–1998), Yiddish writer, author of several novels, and prolific writer for Moscow based journal, Sovietish Heymland (Soviet Homeland). Return


[Page 217]

Remembrances

by Borukh Hokhman, Argentina

Translated by Pamela Russ

Donated by Roberta Jaffer

My birthplace, the city of Bricheni, was located in the center of the Bessarabian Mesopotamia, in the length of which were two rivers: in the south was Prut River, and in the north – the Dniester. East of Bricheni was Sekuryan, Jedenicz, Ryskon; and west – Lypkona, Nowosielycz, Khutyn. Bricheni was in the center. All these cities and towns did not maintain any record books and until today, we do not know when the Jews that were settled there arrived and whether they were better off economically than the Jews in Podolje, Wolyn, Lithuania, and Poland.

Bessarabia was once part of the Moldovian governance; it …

bri217.jpg
Borukh Hokhman (Argentina)

 

… was also under Turkish rule for many years, and in my times – it was a Russian province. The constant wars left no signs of Jewish life in any region.

In comparison to the neighboring cities and towns, Bricheni was a progressive, cultural city. There was a large number of youth that was studying, and that began worldly activity, and tried to establish a systematized educational, national, organized society, truly …

[Page 218]

… on a large scale – but the necessary institutions and means were missing. But there was already a ripe element to bring to all the classes of the people, the buds of Jewish renaissance. The “Haskalah” [“Enlightenment”] movement,[1] which promoted worldly education for the Jewish masses, Zionism, territorialism, and socialism, debuted very comfortably and set down deep roots. I am only giving this a light overview, because I myself did not participate here.

I was born in Bricheni, but my parents almost always lived in a village, because my father always worked in agriculture. His parents and his entire family were all village Jews, and earned their livelihood from field work, gardens, and cultivation, fruits, orchard, tobacco plantations, and sugar beets. Mostly, we lived in Kotyuzhan, not far from Sankowucz, where the largest Jewish estate owner was Moshe Berstajn – with over 2,000 desiatyn [Russian measure of land, roughly 1.1 hectares] of land, with a finely installed electric mill. His son Boris (Borukh) Berstajn lived there and personally managed things. My father would rent twenty desiatyn of land, the length of the river, and work it. The Czarist government would always decree and strictly carry out the decree of chasing the Jews from the villages that were near the border. Kotyuzhan was not far from the Austrian and Romanian borders, and my parents had to liquidate the business and settle in Bricheni.

When we lived in the village, our home was well set up and organized with everything needed. It was a large house, comfortable, with many rooms, an expansive yard, a fruit orchard, a good barn, a cellar and all kinds of facilities for chickens and animals. There were wagons to transport the fruit to the city and for personal needs, several good horses, a few cows, goats, sheep, chickens, geese, ducks, turkeys, and pigeons. In the large barn, there were always many different provisions: wheat flour, cornmeal, maize, and all kinds of oats. In the cellar, there were large barrels of sauerkraut, sour pickles, watermelons, peppers, and tomatoes; barrels of sour apples, jars with all kinds of preserves from sour cherries, cherries, gooseberries, raspberries, and other fruit; roasted prune jam and apples, from plums, from pears, etc. Aside from that, there were jugs of milk, with sour cream, butter, all kinds of pressed cheeses from cows and goats: whey cheese, kashkaval cheese, and Urda cheese [similar to ricotta]; a small barrel of herring and dried fish. In the winter, the cellar was filled with potatoes …

[Page 219]

… onions, garlic, beets, and other products, and a few bottles of wisniak [sweet cherry liquor]. In the attic was roasted chicken and good fat, and smoked meat was hanging, also pastrami, and thin, filled kishke [intestine].

Several other Jewish families lived in Kotyuzhan. Some made their living from little shops, others rented areas in the forests to chop wood and sell it in the city and the surrounding villages. One Jew even had a kosher butcher shop. There was also a shochet [ritual slaughterer] in the village (also for the surrounding villages). There was a quorum of ten men [minyan] for prayers on Shabbath and Yom tov [holidays], and from one end of the village to the other, all came to prayers. During the greatest heat of the summer and the worst blizzards in the winter – no one ever missed it. Before and after prayers, there was friendly conversation about all kinds of local and worldly subjects. People spoke calmly, quietly, earnestly, and with great respect.

They brought, in partnership, a religious teacher to the village; almost always it was an elderly Jew who taught the few children. Each father of these children, other than paying the school fee, provided for the teacher in their own homes for several weeks with room and board (the children were not too happy with this…). This cheder [religious school for young children] was in the center of town so that it should be convenient for all the children to come. The studies were not too sophisticated, and consisted of Chumash and Rashi [Bible (Torah) studies and Rashi commentary], writing Yiddish, and a little arithmetic. Usually, the children did not exhibit any great love for learning. The outdoor sun drew them much more strongly, as did the trees, the river and the mountains that surrounded the village, and especially the windmills and their huge wings that moved so gracefully, that never lost their magic in our childhood fantasies.

Translator's Footnote

  1. The Haskalah, or Jewish Enlightenment, was an intellectual movement in Europe that lasted from approximately the 1770s to the 1880s. The movement encouraged Jews to study secular subjects, to learn both the European and Hebrew languages. The followers of the Haskalah tried to assimilate into European society in dress, language, manners and loyalty to the ruling power. (Jewish Virtual Library)As there isn't river bearing this name in this region, it is assumed that the reference is to the Dniester River Return


[Page 220]

Memories from Bricheni

by Dovid Beznassi

Translated by Pamela Russ

Donated by Roberta Jaffer

The Shul [Synagogue]

According to what my grandfather told me, the large Bricheni shul had already been standing for about 150 years (according to other more or less certain information, the shul was built in the year 5586–7; 1826, Y.A. [“Yagen Aleinu,” may it protect us from bad). And this was a shul, he would add, that could stand in Odessa [for its elegance]. It was built from stone, large and tall. At the entrance to the shul, there was a balcony; then you entered the corridor, from which on both sides there were two small synagogues. You descended five steps and entered a large temple. An exceptional awe befell you – the height, the size, the elegance!

The dome was painted as the sky, and the brilliant moon and glittering stars were fitted right in. Around the walls, the zodiacs. On the left wall, at the entrance, there was a large, round matzo hanging as an indication of an eruv [The matzo is part of the ceremony conducted to enable Jews to carry items on the Shabbath, an act that is prohibited by the Torah].

Children used to say that on the first night of Passover the deceased came here and conducted the seder [Passover night ritual]. In general, children would avoid going near the shul at night… At the Western wall [place of honor in a shul, faces Western Wall in Jerusalem], there was a gallery, towards which the windows of the women's section of the shul were directed, and right in the middle of the shul stood the large balemer [synagogue platform].

My grandfather would often sigh: The Holy Ark! A shul of this size should have a more beautiful and larger Holy Ark! The two seats on either side of the Holy Ark were reserved; one side for Reb Rav Yudele Rabinowycz, an elderly Jew, fanatically religious, a Torah learner and a scholar. Other than his moving closer to God, nothing else mattered to him – not the community, not his own home – he simply did not see anyone…. On the other side, as a “Rav Mitaam” [a rabbi appointed by the Czarist government] (the Rabbi of Kozyan) Rav Yudel Bursczewski, was the exact opposite of Reb Yudele. An intelligent Jew in world activity, with a warm heart, with lots of Jewish and general education. A talented speaker – he took great care of and did a lot for the community, celebrated with its joys and hurt with its pain.

The congregants of the shul comprised mainly of working men. Practically no wealthy men prayed there. Still, for many years they engaged a chazzan [cantor] there, Reb Moshe (Kiewski?) “Akhler,” along with a choir. The chazzan was a great singer, a student of the famous chazzan Nissi Belzer. Aside from that, chazzanim [cantors] who were traveling by would often lead the services there, sometimes even famous ones.

[Page 221]

I remember when the famous chazzan Reb Nissi Belzer and his choir of thirty–something singers led the services for us one particular Shabbath. Reb Nissi was invited to lead the services at Rav Sadigurer's for the Shabbath. When they heard about it, the Bricheni shul wanted to have the chazzan stop over for a Shabbath on his way there. Reb Nissi was a small man, with a small goatee, wore a long, black coat [“kapote,” frock worn by religious men], long until the ground, and on top of that, he was a stutterer. The shul was packed to the point of danger. The heat was terrible, and everyone was covered in sweat. But no one left until the end of the services. And that's no small thing! Nissi Belzer is leading the services! But that was Nissi's final road. After a few Shabbosim [plural of Shabbath] of praying in Sadigura, he died there.

The time for a Holy Ark finally came. On one particular Simkhas Torah [Jewish holiday at the end of Sukkos, when there is dancing and celebrating with the Torah scrolls], after each round of dancing [there are seven rounds on the holiday of Simkhas Torah], HaRav Borsczewski used his loud voice, mounted the balemer, and told the congregants in warm but simple words that the following day, when each Jew would be called up to the Torah reading, his [financial] pledge should be towards a new Holy Ark. The congregation received this warmly, and consented. And literally: the following day, during the Torah reading, on the balemer sat HaRav Borsczewski and the permanent gabbai [sexton] of the shul Khaim Czimerman, and Jews made generous financial pledges. In a short time, the shul was decorated with a magnificent Holy Ark at the full height of the shul, covered in blue enamel and gold plaits. The shul's patrons, and not only them, were very proud of their Holy Ark: “Something such as this is not even found in Odessa!”

 

The Rebbe, Reb Zalman, of blessed memory

In one of the small shuls, in the side shuls, every Shabbath the Rebbe, Reb Zalman Refolowycz, of blessed memory, would do his Torah studies for the congregation. He was called simply, the Rebbe. His roots were from a very prestigious family, and he was a great scholar. He selected as his place not one of the Houses of Study [Beis Medrash], not one of the other small Houses of Study with the so–called wealthier businessmen, but specifically the small shul where the simple, hard–working men prayed. He would learn Torah with them every Shabbath before minkha prayers [afternoon]. A guide for life, who came close to people with love, and for each embittered person, he always had words of comfort.

[Page 222]

Jews Are Fighting

On the last day of Passover, 5663 [1903], there was a terrible pogrom in Kishinev [Chisinau], that riled up the world. In our town, as in all other cities and towns, the deep pain of the pogrom was accompanied with the fear that, Heaven forbid, the same would happen in our town. And sure enough, very soon, an incident occurred that could have brought on a terrible blood bath.

There was a young man on Rymkiewycz Street, Yosele, who had converted to Christianity. One market day, that actually occurred on a Christian holiday, this convert came with his peasant wife and a few in–laws from the village, threw his mother out of the house and settled himself in, with the excuse that this was his inheritance from his deceased father.

The neighbors could not tolerate this and got themselves involved. A fight broke out in which almost all the non–Jewish at the fair fought on one side, and almost all the Jews on the other side. The police were incapable of stopping the fighting. The whole bunch of non–Jews and Jews moved to the bailiwick [district under the bailiff or sheriff].

A Kowal tradesman pretty much blocked the road to the monument, and so the mass pushed into Kowal Street. Here the non–Jews received a very “warm” welcome from the Kowalers. With red–hot irons the Kowaler threw themselves into the fight and soon a few of the non–Jews were wounded. The rest ran off, screaming: “The Jews are fighting!” It didn't take long, and soon not one of them was left in town.

With the police, both from the circle and from the local ones, we figured something out: We saved ourselves with some money…

 

The Visit of Dr. Hirshberg

The town is buzzing: Dr. Hirshberg has come from America to visit his elderly mother, his brother, and his former childhood friends.

Dr. Hirshberg!! Who is that? Many still remember him – he left when he was still a young boy, and now – take a look – a doctor!! Tall, handsome, with large glasses, and on Shabbath he goes to shul with a tall top hat – it makes a tremendous impression on the townspeople, and there's plenty to talk about. He shows a medical book that he wrote and his picture is printed after the foreword. And the Jews, especially his former friends, are very proud.

[Page 223]

bri223.jpg
Dr. Hirshberg, of blessed memory

 

His brother, Shmuel Brindzer, at first also received him warmly, even though he could not understand what does this mean: You spend so much money simply to see each other? … But then, several days later, there began some wrangling between the brothers with regards to their mother. The doctor demanded that the brother take better care of the mother and should support her more generously. So Shmuel Brindzer became afraid that the brother meant that he would take his part of the inheritance – so he began spreading rumors that the doctor was crazy. He himself witnessed how the brother [the doctor] washed himself every day with cold water, he cleaned his teeth with some sort of lime, and besides, his actions were not of any normal human being … He crowned him with the name “kohut” [Polish: “rooster”] and set up children to follow him in the streets and shout: “Crazy doctor! Kohut!”

The children did this eagerly, and wherever the doctor appeared, they accompanied him with their shouts, laughter, and even threw rocks at him. Former friends and acquaintances distanced themselves from him, and tried …

[Page 224]

… to their shame – to cut him off everywhere, and Dr. Hirshberg had to run away from Bricheni very quickly.

It should be mentioned here, that regardless [of these events], the noble Dr. Hirshberg left five thousand dollars in his will for the Brichenyer living here in Israel.

 

Professional Disputes

The revolutionary movement in Russia in the year 1905 also found its echoes with us. The youth threw aside its paper collars, manacles, and ties and donned black satin shirts (“ruboshkes,”like silk nightshirts), with red laces. The girls cut off their braids and began wearing blouses with bits of d├ęcolletage. The student youth threw themselves with great fervor into explaining to the working masses what socialism meant and what was Marxism; they established circles and studied with the seamstresses and tailor–shop workers brochures of Plekhanow[1], Kautsky[2], Lassalle[3], and others.

Very often, foreign lecturers (orators) visited, who read lectures on various topics. Parties rapidly appeared, just as mushrooms after a rain. S.D. (Social Democrats), S.R. (Social Revolutionaries), the Bund, S.Z. (Socialist Zionists), Y.S. (Jewish Socialists), P.Tz. (Poalei Zion [Workers for Zion]). And each party sent its own orators. They were welcomed mainly in the same auditoriums, with the same enthusiasm, and everyone quietly applauded so that the officials would not hear. Few of them were really keen enough to understand the difference between the parties.

A reading room was established, where one could read all kinds of socialist publications, newspapers, and journals in Russian and in Yiddish, legal and illegal. A lot of this affected the student Alexander [the ordinary ‘Joe’], that came from just anywhere and busied himself with private lessons. He was an S.D. [Social Democrat], and helped shape the strong “Iskra”[4] group that developed many, many activities. They even got a copy machine and printed their own announcements.

The officials began to sense something amiss, and they had to lock up the reading room. They gave me the copying machine and I hid it in the attic of our house. We had to be much more on guard for any conspiracy. If a lecturer came, there was a meeting (a “massowka,” is what it was called) somewhere deep in the forest, or in the field among the corn stalks. In the winter – in far–flung houses in a side street. The study circles were limited in the numbers of listeners.

[Page 225]

The head of the movement was the midwife Katya Ginsberg. Around her were centered the better known and the most active of the youth, also of the students, and also of the workers. The work branched out and they proceeded to organize the workers with professional groundwork. Bricheni was probably the only city in the entire region that boasted of a well–organized professional movement, and even a workers' council as per the model from Peterburg.

Particularly strong was the professional union of merchants' clerks [overseers]. With the establishment of the workman's council the union put its strength forward and demanded a twelve–hour work day, from eight in the morning until eight at night. This demand appeared quite ridiculous in the eyes of all the residents and especially to the store owners. This type of thing had never been heard of before, and it made no sense that the stores should only open at eight and then close already at eight in the evening… But the union took this very seriously and forced the shopkeepers to close their doors on time.

This caused sharp arguments and even brought to physical fighting. The businessmen could not tolerate this and declared a “lockout,” that means they simply spurred on their employees. To this, for solidarity the Soviets declared a general one day strike, which was strictly and precisely adhered to. However, for the workers, there were no practical or favorable results.

The revolutionary movement of the year 1905, as is known, fell through. But it left its traces for a lot longer. It contributed greatly to strengthening and deepening the awareness of more classes of youth and of a large number of the workers.

 

The Association of Hebrew Speakers

Two Jews, Dovid Shmuel Kaczapnik and Moti Kreindels, brought over two sons–in–law, the first – Dovid Lerner, and the second – Yehoshua Kehos. A third Jew, Yehudel Stoljer, brought over a daughter–in–law from Zwanjecz. These three made an impression in the town with the fact that they knew Hebrew. This led to Yosef Shtajnhoiz, Hershel the Rebbe's son, giving birth to the notion of using these new skills and establishing an “Association of Hebrew Speakers”, and he went ahead and did this.

The first meeting was held at my fathers' house. As usual …

[Page 226]

… the first thing was to select a committee. I took it upon myself to create a stamp “Agudas Dobrei Ivrit, Bricheni” [the Association of Hebrew Speakers of Bricheni], and to collect periodicals for the association. The first few notebooks of “Hashluach” [“the Messengers”] I received from Shloime Berish's (Wajnstajn).

The following Shabbath, at the meeting, when we got down to practical work, we encountered the first difficulty: We were missing words. How, for example, should we greet each other? How do you say, “Good morning,” Good Shabbath”? None of us knew… The only thing left to do was to go to Reb Hershele, of blessed memory, and ask him. His son Yosef and I were assigned the task. With a friendly reception, Reb Hershele explained that for good morning one should say “tzipara tova,” good evening was “arava tova,” and good Shabbath was “Shabbata tova,” and simply good health was “yoma tova.” Today this looks a little odd; but at that time – about sixty years ago – it was simply a discovery for us.

This association did not last long. For many reasons, it quietly lost its soul.

Translator's Footnotes

  1. Plekhanov was a founder of the social–democratic movement in Russia and was one of the first Russians to identify himself as “Marxist.” Return
  2. Kautsky (October 16, 1854 – October 17, 1938) was a Czech–Austrian philosopher, journalist, and Marxist theoretician, called by some the “Pope of Marxism.” Return
  3. Ferdinand Lassalle–Wolfson (11 April 1825 – 31 August 1864), was a German–Jewish jurist, philosopher, and socialist political activist. Lassalle is best remembered as an initiator of international–style socialism in Germany. Return
  4. “Iskra” [“Spark”], base for revolutionary intellectuals, produced Iskra, the party paper for the Russian Social Democratic Party. Return


“Wheat Money”
(Money given to the poor to buy Matzo for Passover)

by Shloime Lerner, Argentina

Translated by Pamela Russ

Donated by Joseph Rosenthal

Around Chanukah time, the businessmen began busying themselves with “ Maos Khitim ” [“Wheat Money”]. At that time, the Rav, Reb Yisroel'nyu Mezhbizher, a great grandson of the Baal Shem, of blessed memory,* would come down to Britshan. The tradition was that he would bless a golden ring [coin] (15 ruble) and then present it to the community. They would display it, and then the children would have the job of dispensing (selling) the raffle tickets [for it]: The mood had developed for the beginnings of Maos Khitim. Additionally, the businessmen set up a committee to collect money for the same cause.

I remember an episode that is very typical of the time, and it is worth telling.

Among the members of the committee was Dr. Fajnberg. A very dear Jew, even though a little assimilated. He was an administrator at the Jewish hospital. He was a good Zionist, and was even a delegate at the second or third Basel congress.

He was a good doctor whose practice had a fine reputation, but he could still not get a position in a Zemski hospital [public hospital] because he was a Jew. A fine man by nature, a golden heart, but a very particular person. So, there was a story:

[Page 227]

When Dr. Fajnberg had to go to town to collect money for Maos Khitim, Yosi Phinjes lent him a wagon and wagon driver, Khaim “Zawarukhe” [“storm”], a small, skinny little Jew, who was a coachman for the wealthy wagon drivers and was promoted to be a wagon driver for Yosi Phinjes.

Khaim Zawarukhe was a very poor man with the burdens of a large family, and in addition, had a terrible temper (therefore his added name of Zawarukhe). If Khaim would get angry, he would rant like a lowlife. As he left with Dr. Fajnberg one cold, frosty day, the doctor delayed somewhere for a long time. Khaim was sitting on the coach–box completely frozen, and murder was boiling inside him.

When Dr. Fajnberg came back out, Khaim gave him an earful and poured out his whole dark heart. Dr. Fajnberg, as it was said, was also a person with a temper, easily angered, did not offer excuses, but lifted up his hand and gave Khaim a resounding smack…

Understandably, Khaim sobbed, and asked: “Why are you hitting me?”

Dr. Fajnberg caught himself, and realized he had done an ugly piece of work, and soon showed compassion for the poor coachman.

“Khaim, does it hurt you, Khaim?” the doctor asked.

Khaim mustered some energy, and poured out his package of problems:

That he was a poor man, that he had a house full of young children, and so on.

“Do you have a house, Khaim?” Dr. Fajnberg asked.

“What do I have… I have nothing… I wander around the neighborhoods,” Khaim said and he sobbed.

“So, that's good,” said Dr. Fajnberg. “Here's a hundred, and go buy yourself a small house. I'm sorry, Khaim, but I was upset, so I raised my hand. Forgive me, Khaim.”

And Khaim Zawarukhe bought himself a small house with a straw roof, not far from the small river, behind the baths, opposite the tombstone makers.

These were our Jews!

When the Russian–Japanese War broke out, at the end of 1903, Dr. Fajnberg was called up to military service. His big Jewish heart that bled for each Jew, and for all Jews in general, did not survive, and in Khotin, in Dr. Klopstok's home, Dr. Fajnberg had a heart attack and died on the spot. By chance, here in Buenos Aires, I met his son who had run away from the Bolsheviks.

And again there was Maos Khitim. – The city grew, and with it the number of poor, and among them, as usual, the ordinary beggars.

[Page 228]

The collections were not sufficient, and the need to create a more secure fund for Maos Khitim grew. My father, may he rest in peace, and his friends thought of building an oven (they did not yet know about building factories) to bake matzos made by machine [meaning, not handmade, as was the custom].

In town, they discussed how machine made matzos are miraculously wondrous, better, tastier, more hygienic, and more flavorful than the conventional matzos that were rolled and kneaded by hand.

But how do you build it?

First you need capital to construct the building, set up the appropriate ovens, and then install the machines and other utensils. Other than that, they have to think of the workers issue, which is very important and complicated.

In Britshan, already before Purim until the actual eve of Passover, 20–25 ovens were being used; these were especially used only for baking matzos. There were [hired for this], God forbid, no bakers, no craftsmen with baking skills, only poor Jews who worked all year at all kinds of other jobs , and they [still] didn't have enough to make Passover, and besides, one has to give a child a pair of shoes, clothing, occasionally buy some utensils for the house, and so on.

There were also those types of houses that had special ovens, and where the man was an expert in shuffling (putting in and taking out the matzos from the oven), the wife was an expert at kneading, the children – one a water–carrying young boy, another a matzo “reidler” [the one who makes the holes in the matzo], and they worked smartly for weeks at a time, became blackened, just so as to somewhat guide fate, and celebrate the holiday with the correct directives.

And where should the tens of wives, young women, and girls who kneaded the matzos be? So, a difficult problem…

A committee was set up of societal community activists, who thought about this and studied all the problems, and finally they concluded with a plan.

The committee summoned all the Jews who were involved with baking matzos. They put forth that all the specialists and their staff would have to go into the new matzo bakery. The advantage: Instead of everyone working 12–14 hours and then around the clock for four weeks, he would only work eight hours a day and he would be guaranteed the former earnings. But that wasn't all. They still had to resolve the “legal” question, meaning the religious people should not have any complaints about the matzo not being kosher, God forbid.

They had to get the approval of the rabbis, and here our three rabbis put up resistance, saying that they could not give their approval for machine matzos…

[Page 229]

What's the problem? Our rabbis were afraid that they would lose their earnings from the income that they used to receive for making the ovens kosher.

But they were reassured of the opposite: In the place of 20–25 ovens they would have only to make kosher and keep watch over one single oven and yet they would receive the same earnings.

The logic was for naught. They did not give in. There is no mention of machine matzos in the Code of Jewish Law…

So, we would have to get the endorsement of a great rabbi, a well–known certifier, whom other rabbis would acknowledge and accept as well. We sent off a letter to a rabbi, drafted by my father, may he rest in peace, to Reb Alter Konstantiner, a rabbinic personality renowned for his knowledge in Jewish law, and we soon received a reply that machine matzos were kosher to the highest degree of observance [“kosher le'mehadrin min hamehadrin”].

Now, our rabbis had to consent. And money? Where to obtain capital?

For that, a dear Jew came forward, Borukh Mottel's. It's worthwhile to pause for a moment and talk about this person's deep devotion and loyalty to meet the needs of the community, with good faith, this Reb Borukh Mottel's (I don't remember his family name). He was a Torah scholar, a fine student, and an intelligent, well thought out person, and on top of that, a practical, wealthy businessman. He dressed, however, not like a cosmopolitan, modern Jew, such as he unquestionably was.

He stands before my eyes with his fair–colored beard, God forbid not trimmed, with a large “talis kattan” [“small prayer shawl” or four–cornered garment], with the tassels hanging out from under his warm waistcoat, wearing a long frock, and with his curled sidelocks. Disregarding his mode of dress, he was a fine Maskil.

His large home stood between Berel Broide's and Shloime'le Akselrod's homes. In his youth, he was a melamed [teacher of religious studies], then later went into business, which was really not commonplace in our area.

He moved to Austria on the Caspian Sea, and there provided the entire region with salted, dried fish, fat, and other products. His manager was Shmuel Mintze–Laya's, a dear Jew, a friend of my father.

Borukh Mottel's would leave Britshan just after Passover and not return until Chanukah.

As it is told, Borukh Mottel's was one of the first members of the committee to set up a new oven to bake machine matzos.

[Page 230]

The first thing he did was to buy 600 sacks of flour from Boris Bernstajn, thinking that the price of flour before Passover would increase.

And really, in that year, the price of flour did rise one ruble per sack.

There was no appropriate building for the planned factory in the city, so it was decided to build a special wooden building.

Yosi Phinyes pledged to donate all the wood for the building. Shloime Yoir's, an energetic grain merchant, took upon himself the administrative portion of the huge project. A whole group of younger and middle–aged devoted community activists threw themselves into the job. Understandably, not for any particular reward.

From that time on, Britshan made a profit from making machine matzos for Passover. The poor were taken care of, not only with matzos, but also with the four cups of wine, eggs, fat, and so on.

The factory provided for everyone.

Shloime Lerner
Argentina

* The name is best known in reference to the founder of Hasidic Judaism, the Baal Shem Tov (Besht–“Master of the Good Name”), Israel ben Eliezer (1698–1760), in the Ukraine.


Remarks

by Yakov Amitzur

Translated by Pamela Russ

Donated by Joseph Rosenthal

In writing that “Our rabbis were concerned that they would forfeit their earnings,” Shloime Lerner makes a great error. It's possible that the Maskilim of the time actually thought that, and maybe they simply made that remark in order to rile up the rabbis.

When I grew up, I read all the correspondence of my father, Reb Hershele, of blessed memory, that he had with great rabbis in Russia about many issues, and among them was the issue of machine-made matzos, and the picture actually looks very different.

There were three rabbis in Britshan at that time: Reb Yudele (Rabinowycz), Reb Daniel (Finkensohn), and my father Reb Hershele, of blessed memory. In this question [of the machine–made matzos], the thinking was divided among the three. Reb Daniel was perplexed, and Reb Yudele, who was very careful about Jewish law, literally stirred up worlds, and in no way gave permission. Therefore, we had to turn to greater rabbis (not only to Reb Alter Konstantiner) in order to get their endorsement. But whoever knew Reb Yudele, knew how far he was from the material world (they said of him that he had no interest in anything financial). How wrong it is to write about him in the context of profits…

Yakov Amitzur

 

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