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[Page 251]

Brichener Relief in America

by Yosef Keler (Kestelman)

Translated by Pamela Russ

Donated by Barbie Schneider Moskowitz

I will not even try to write about my memories of Bricheni, simply because I am away from there now over a half a century, and I've forgotten a lot about my childhood home. Aside from that, when I was in Bricheni, I did not know many people. My father, Itzy Shokhet, may he rest in peace, did not run a business and I did not have the opportunity to have much interaction with the people in town.

I only knew the way to get to kheder [religious school for young children] or to the court where my father was the baal tefilah [leader of prayers] during the High Holy Days, when I was one of his choir members. On an occasional Shabbath, I would also go to the rabbis, Reb Daniel and Reb Yudele, to be “quizzed” on my reading of the gemara [Talmud commentary] of the week … So that, aside from my teachers: Itzy Kharastkever, Shimon Melamed, and Avrohom Khaim Sofers and their students, and aside from my close neighbors, I did not know anyone.

Only later, with the influence of my uncle Shlyame Berish, when I began reading Hebrew books, I became friendly with a few people from whom you could borrow some books, people such as Avrohom Goldgal, may he rest in peace (he died in Israel), Aron Stajnhoiz, may he rest in peace, who later became my brother-in-law, and who together with my sister Faige and their two children Hershel and Shifra, died in Transnistria, and a few such other people.

Also in America, I did not have the opportunity to encounter my Bricheni landsleit [compatriots], because my social activities in the Workers' Union and in the socialist movement

 

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Bricheni Relief in New York – 1939

 

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did not leave me much time to meet people from other spheres. Only in the year 1933 did I by chance meet Harry Warton (Wartikowski), may he rest in peace, and from him I found out that two years earlier a Bricheni Relief had been founded, of which he was the president, and that they were slowly collecting money to support the charity institutions of Bricheni, such as Malbish Arumim [providing clothing], the Talmud Torah school children, and so on.

He told me that at the end of Yom Kippur, year 5693 [1933], at the home of Nekhe and Pesakh Schneider, they, and Sam Klein, Nesi Plotkin and Kaufman met, and there they decided to found a relief organization, and actually placed him, Harry Warton, as president, Sam Klein – secretary,

 

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Yosef Kessler (Kestelman) (New York)

 

and Pesakh Schneider – treasurer. He explained to me that I wasn't invited to the meeting because they couldn't call any open meetings since they were limited in funding, and he was very disturbed at our landsleit since they weren't coming forward properly for the requests from the Relief fund.

Once again I did not hear from the organization until the year 1934, when Sholom Kilimnik came from Bricheni for a visit to America and wanted to use his presence to contact other landsleit, so that they should do something productively to help the Brichener institutions. Someone

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told Kilimnik about me and he came to me and asked that I join the work of the Relief and help direct the organization to greater work. I discussed this with him and did come to the meeting that the Relief organization had called, in respect for Sholom Kilimnik. When Harry Warton opened the meeting, he really put down our landsleit for their narrowmindedness and he bemoaned the fact that during the two years that the Relief existed, he was able to raise only about $300 which he sent over to Bricheni.

Even though I had decided earlier that I was not going to speak at the meeting, I found it necessary to speak for our landsleit and at least partially throw the guilt onto the founders of the Relief who truthfully were very fine, kind-hearted people, with the best of intentions, but it seemed that they had very little experience in organizational work. As a result, the Relief was really not popular among the Brichener landsleit.

It remained a secret among the six or seven founders. The committee was not elected by anyone and was not obliged to give an accounting of its activities and of the monies collected. It was even working without any defined statute that should earn the trust of the Brichener landsleit.

Because of that, it was decided to elect a temporary committee that would prepare working plans and would call a large meeting and would establish a legal, government recognized, organization. And only here begins my commitment to the organization.

The honor as founder of the Relief organization, therefore, comes not to me but to all the above mentioned people. Sadly, some of them are already in the Next World – may their memories be honored – and only friends Nekha and Pesakh Schneider are still alive with us.

As per my suggestion, we received many addresses of our landsleit from three existing Brichener societies and connected with them by writing and through personal meetings. Through Harry Warton, we found a lawyer, and landsman, and he managed the social functions with small expenses. He also told us about Sam Schreiber, the owner of a large printing company, who was our landsman, and Sam Schreiber did all our printing work completely for free.

When we received the confirmation from the government, we called a large meeting, which more than 200 people attended, and the sale for placing names in

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the “charter” within one hour raised more than $800. This was the first sum of money that the Relief raised, and the beginning of further great activity.

Even though they gave me the honor of being the first legal elected chairman of the Relief, I felt that the chairman should be a personality that could earn everyone's trust and invoke everyone's respect. Following my suggestion, Doctor Goldschmid was elected president, and he accepted the office with the condition that I should do the daily work and he would be chairman of the meetings. After that, our work evolved. Our landsleit reached out to us warmly and in the first year we sent more than $1500 over to Bricheni.

In 1936, I was elected chairman and kept that office until 1942, when Harry Warton took over for a year.

All those years, we did a lot for the Bricheni institutions such as: the seniors' home, visiting the sick, the Jewish hospital, providing clothing to those who need, and schooling. I do not want to pause here to discuss the difficulties that the various committees in Bricheni created for us with their arguments and libels that one committee wrote about another – and we from New York had to straighten out all this …

I would like to mention an undertaking here that later had great success and, by the way, also mention good things about our landsman Yisroel Kremer, may he rest in peace, Yekusiel Tadres's son. By chance, at a regular meeting with him, I told him that I thought of an idea to open a kitchen for the Talmud Torah children in Bricheni so that at least once a day they would receive a warm, nutritious meal. At the beginning, Yisroel was puzzled: Where would we get the means for this? I explained that for this we would have to organize the women in Bricheni so that they should assume the responsibility of preparing and serving the meals, and we here will provide the funding. Yisroel then enthusiastically accepted this suggestion, and we decided to present this at the next meeting of Relief.

I was very excited until the meeting. I was always thinking of ways to acquire the financial means, and – who knows – maybe the assembly would not accept the plans… and how excited I was when the assembly very warmly did accept the idea as I had suggested. Soon we received the news from Bricheni that this sort of committee

 

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A monument for the Bricheni holy martyrs in the New York cemetery

 

had been established. We stepped closer to realizing the plans to cover the budget. Now it seemed quite simple: Anyone who wants just pays into the Relief the cost for a day's food in the kitchen (around $20), and his name would be put up in the kitchen, showing that the expenses of that day were paid by him.

It was a pleasure to see how warmly and heartfelt our landsleit came forward and covered the costs for days and even for entire weeks. I felt elevated and was proud to be the chairman of such an organization.

And we should mention here the merit of a few landsleit who gave much energy and time for the following activities of Relief and all its

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endeavors. They participated greatly in preparing the annual journal, soliciting advertisements and greetings; they sold tickets for our organized parties and banquets, and they brought the landsleit to our meetings, and generally helped to increase the profits of the endeavors of the Relief funds.
And these are the names: HaRav Moshe Rozenblat, may he rest in peace, Avrohom Barag, may he rest in peace, Avrohom Goldgal, may he rest in peace, Yakov Rozenblat, may he rest in peace, Yisroel Kremer, may he rest in peace, Yeshiye Nudelman, may he rest in peace, Philip Best, may he rest in peace, Avrohom Roitman, may he rest in peace, Dovid and Dena Flamenboim, may they rest in peace, Max Schein, may he rest in peace, Penny Skolnik, may she rest in peace, and – may they live long years! – Shmuel Schreiber, Pesakh and Nekha Schneider, Berta and Khaim Milman, Shloime Lerner, Rose Rozenblat, and last but not least – our secretary Pinkhas Spivak. (If I inadvertently have forgotten to mention someone, I beg for forgiveness.)

Everyone did a lot on his own and encouraged others to work for the good of all our endeavors.

When the World War broke out in Europe, we did not close down our organization, but we waited for peace … and when the clouds of war dissipated, and the sun of peace began to shine, only then did we see how great the needs were that we had to [take care of].

We received some short, dry letters from Bricheni. We sent packages of clothing and food, and for that – and anything else, we received no answer; or, in the best case, we received a few lines with thanks for having sent the packages, and that was it… Understandably, we took an interest in what was going on in our town of Bricheni, who was left alive, and who, G-d forbid, had died – all these burning questions remained hanging in the air, and until today, we received no answer for these.

Then we received a letter from Rumania, written by Moshe Zilber, where he let us know that many Brichener were located in Rumania; he added a list of a few tens of names.

Understandably, we immediately sent out packages of food and clothing and suggested that he assemble all the Brichener and establish a committee that would remain in constant contact with us. We would send out packages to this committee and he would distribute them to those who needed. The people over there were able to know more than we would over here about who was needy. We also asked for a complete list of the Brichener who were in Rumania.

Moshe Zilber and the committee completed their goal in the best manner they could. They sent a list of hundreds of names to whom we sent complete transports of food stuffs and clothing.

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It should be noted: that Moshe Zilber's, may he rest in peace, huge, difficult, careful, persevering work, made it possible to accomplish the holy mission, along with his tremendous commitment to it (he received many stones as “gratitude”…). [Meaning he never received enough recognition, only “many stones” on his grave, after the fact.]

Our profits grew, and along with them – our activity. But we took on even larger projects.

After a successful banquet that we held in honor of our landsman Izak Malester, with a special journal that brought in an excess of $5,000, we, the executive committee of the Relief organization, assembled to discuss what to do next. The meeting took place in the office of Harry Warton, may he rest in peace, (Wartikowski), who consented to take over the chairmanship of the organization for one year. I told them what I had heard a few days earlier from a friend of mine, that their landsleit were going to put up a monument in their landsmanschaft cemetery in memory of the holy martyrs from their town. I suggested that we too should put up a monument for our holy martyrs.

As usual, when a new idea is raised, there are many doubters and regular nay-sayers. But Harry Warton caught on to this idea and threw himself with fire and impetus to get it going.

We put in a lot of energy to outdo the opposition, saying that the monument did not come instead of providing material help to our landsleit. That the money collected for support would not be used for the monument. The contrary: We believed that aside from the main goal of putting up a memorial for our martyrs and perpetuating their names, it would serve as a source of help for our landsleit. When we succeeded in convincing our members, the question arose: Where will we put the monument?

In New York, we have three Bricheni societies: 1) “The First Bricheni Society”; 2) “Independent Brichener Benevolent Society”; and 3) “The Bricheni Women's Society.” The largest of the three is the “Independent” which has more members than the other two. But there's the devil's work, and just then there were new elections for office in the Society, and the supporters of our Relief who were members there, lost. It was reason to believe that they would not agree to give us a place for the monument in their cemetery. But I thought differently of our landsleit, and believed that we would receive the place. And truly, as I came to them – and not being their

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member – and requested that they give us a place for a monument for the holy martyrs among whom were also their fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, they immediately agreed to give us whatever place we would choose in their cemetery for this cause.

Now the work started in a much broader way. And again we should note that Harry Warton, may he rest in peace, devoted himself to this project with all his heart. He was negligent in his own business and did not rest entire days so that this project would be successful.

On September 19, 1947, in the presence of a few hundred landsleit, the official, very emotional uncovering of the monument took place. From that time on, for several years, we arranged a trip to the monument (around the time of Elul [Hebrew month, just before Rosh Hashanah]). Unfortunately, for the last few years, for many reasons, there has been no organized trip.

The monument is 17 feet high and is esthetically beautiful, and representatives of many large organizations have come to see it with envy. It cost $5,054 and raised, by paying for names of family members – maybe the only tombstone that is remaining – $10,029. So that about $5,000 remained as a surplus.

I think this is the largest and most beautiful accomplishment of our organization. The monument will serve not only as a memorial for our holy martyrs, but also – a memorial for the glorious work of our Bricheni Relief.

In the following three years, we were unable to complete any large endeavors. We published a journal (the final one) in 1950 and organized a banquet in honor of our active member Max Furman who raised $4,000 for us. This was one of our final projects.

Unfortunately, in these last few years, our work has greatly decreased. Many of the older landsleit are no longer with us. The rest became older and more frail, and the younger generation – well, they are already not Brichener … What does the name “Bricheni” mean to them? What do they feel towards the town? …

And when our honored member-writer returned from a visit to Israel and suggested that we establish a non-profit fund there for our landsleit, we accepted this enthusiastically – and may this fund also serve as a memorial for the Brichener Relief.

Yosef Keler (Kestelman)

 

[Page 260]

Brichany Residents in Brazil

Translated by Pamela Russ

bri260a.JPG
 
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Shaul Gewelder,
Rio
 
Shlomo Serebrenik,
Rio
 
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Yakov Bernstein,
San Paulo
 
Abba Weiner,
San Paulo

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Brichany Residents in Brazil

In Brazil, our Brichener are not organized in a separate Relief [organization] or social body; but they are well represented in the general Bessarabia union, where they conduct very respected activities. Many of them are also very active in almost all areas of the general Jewish societal life in Brazil and in the Zionist and pro–Israel work.

Mr. Shaul Gewelder – of the devoted workers in Zionist areas in Rio. He concentrates all work for Israel there, as well as for Israel's workers' movement.

Mr. Shlomo Serebrenik – respected engineer in Rio. His memoirs of our town as well as his fine map of Bricheni are published here in this book.

Mr. Nisen (Nelson) Weiner – a talented journalist and writer in the Brazilian Jewish press. He sent in some of his memoirs for this book.

Mr. Yakov Bernstein – holds a respected position in the Bessarabian union in Sao Paulo and is its president.

Mr. Abba Weiner – very active in the Sao Paulo Bessarabian union as vice president.

 

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Yehoshua Redenski
Greatly assisted in the work
of our organization in Israel.
Now in North America
 
Nelson–Nisen Weiner,
Rio de Janiero

[Page 262]

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Friends and helpers from Venezuela, Mr. Hershel (Tzvi) Kleinerman and wife

 

[Page 263]

A Bit of Folklore

by Y. Amitzur (Stajnhoiz)

Translated by Pamela Russ

Donated by Steve Llorente

Not only individual people, but also entire cities were worthy of being crowned with an added name, and this is what they used to say about us:

“Bricheni thieves, Lypkoner fools, Jediniczer impious people [non–tzaddikim], Khotyner informers, Sekuryaner aristocrats, and Nowoseliczer gluttons.”

***

“Bricheni have long arms” – a folks phrase.

***

“You stand before Me [G–d] – Bricheni thieves” – a child's rhyme.

***

One evening, at Yakov Berstajn's home, when they stole all the galoshes of the residents and guests who were visiting at that time, the following day he asked Yankel Kh. P. (a well–known leader of the band of thieves) about the theft.

–– “Reb Yankel [Yakov Bernstajn],” he replied, insulted. “Do you think I am a galoshes thief?”

–– “I don't know, maybe you sent an apprentice” …

Told by Sh. Khoresh

***

A.G. was a shtam borer [translator's note: This could mean “an arbiter who verifies lineage,” but not sure] and had nine measures of speech. He would tie together word upon word and story upon story and you never knew when nor how he would end.

Once he sat for many hours at Rabbi Bersczewski's, and as was his manner, talked … and when he left, Bersczewski said to those around him:

“I don't know with what I merited to be the rabbi in a real Jewish town of Israel such as Bricheni. In truth, it seems that I am a great horse [fool]… that means that a person is sitting here and talking to me for three hours straight, and I don't understand one word.”

***

Moshe K. was a well–known pest [nudnik]. Once, at night, he came to Shlomo Wajsberg. He sat for an hour, then two, and thought …

[Page 264]

… nothing about leaving. All those who lived there went to sleep. Shlomo was sitting there and yawning, and Moshe sat …

–– “Listen, Moshe. I am very jealous of you; you are now a free man. If you want, you sit here; if you want, then you can leave. But I am tied down, and I have to sit…”

***

Yakov Berstajn was a member of the administration of the bank “General Credit.” At the meetings, where loans were decided, he would occasionally nod off, or – as they said – pretend to nod off…. Once when they had to hear his opinion, they had to wake him up.

–– “Reb Yankel, what do you think? Should we give Reuven a thousand ruble as credit?”

Reb Yankel opened his eyes wide:

–– “Reuven? A thousand ruble? Give it to him, give it to him. He'll take it, he'll take it.”

***

Moshe Lerner (Kuczenke's) was a poor man all his life, but a great joker. Once, on a Yom Tov [Jewish holiday], Moshe came to the old court where he always came for prayers, wearing a new hat. He went from one to the other and asked: “How do you like my hat? What do you say to my new hat?”

“Reb Moshe,” they asked, “Why do you want to know if we like your hat? You have to like it!”

“Heaven forbid,” replied Moshe, “I bought this hat for you. I could have worn my old hat, but my wife complained it wasn't nice to wear in front of people…”

***

When Kuzicki the uriadnik [low–ranking police] went into the street, and undertook to keep “records” for keeping dirt around the houses, everyone knew this meant – as he himself used to say – “parnassah” [“payment” for keeping quiet]. Nonetheless, everyone grabbed a broom and began sweeping in front of their houses. But this did not help much … On one such day, Moshe Lerner was also standing there with his broom, working diligently. This did not bother Kuzicki. He took out a paper and began to write.

“What's your name?” he asked Moshe with great irritation.

Paltinik,” (half a ruble) Moshe answered with a smile.


[Page 265]

He Bought Out Someone Else's Sins

by Welvel Kizhener (Dovid Yosel's)

Translated by Pamela Russ

Donated by Steve Llorente

This sad story happened in the year 1883 in my home town Bricheni. The two tragic heroes of the story by chance were named Itzik. The vendor of the sins was Itzik Khaim–Hersh–Leyb's, or Itzik of the post office. As long as I had known him, he never put his hand into cold water, always went around satiated, having drunk well and with a healthy, real Russian face, and would give money to the liveries (horse dealers), and for him it was always good in this world. He never gave a thought to the World to Come.

When Itzik Khaim–Hersh–Leyb's reached his later sixties, he began to think: The day when he would have to give an accountability will surely come; he never did any mitzvos [good deeds], and sins, well, he had them by the pood [one pood equal 40 Russian pounds] … so, he would have to find a way to get rid of them. And as they say, seek and you shall find, and he really did find. And here begins the tragic story:

It was the 17th day of Tammuz [Hebrew date marking the beginning of a three week mourning period for the destruction of the two Holy Temples]. Itzik Khaim–Hersh–Leyb's found out that Itzik Moshe Projke's needed some money, so the first Itzik told him how he could get himself a few hundred ruble very easily.

Both Itziks were simple people.

Itzik Khaim–Hersh–Leyb's said to Itzik Moshe Projke's:

“I am giving you, Itzik, 200 ruble on the condition that you buy my sins off me.”

“Fine, my good brother Itzik, I will buy them.”

“But,” remarks Itzik Khaim–Hersh–Leyb's, “you have to sign my paper.”

“Fine,” says Itzik the buyer, “I will sign and seal the deal.”

Their four good brothers, who were also there at that time, were confused by the unusual business deal.

Meanwhile, they all went to Brajne Yosel–Boikh's (a classy tavern) to eat and drink something. After that they went to Reb Itzik'el the Rav.

Reb Itzik'el the Rav actually gave a shiver from this deed that was done and he warned them not to do such a thing. But both Itziks just laughed at him.

Reb Itzik'el the Rav brought over ink and a pen and wrote up a deed of sale with all the details.

Itzik Moshe Projke's, who had bought up …

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… the pile of sins, signed the document. The four good brothers countersigned as witnesses, and Itzik–Khaim–Hersh–Leyb's paid up the 200 ruble in cash.

When the sad story became known across town, the entire Bricheni broiled as in a pot. That means, how could it be, they argued, that a Jew could buy off someone else's sins! And from all sides, they came at Itzik the buyer:

“That means, Itzik, that you did such a thing? Bought off someone else's sins? Do you not have enough of your own sins?”

Itzik took this to heart, became sick, and on the first day of the month of Elul, he was already standing before the Great Court Above …

 

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