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[ Page 15 ]

some drunken gentiles, together with some Russians who built the railroad near Drohitchin, started beating Jews, and looting everywhere. The Jews defended themselves, and the conflict turned into a real war that lasted for quite a while.

The Jews were not always successful in defending themselves with force. It was often necessary to pay or bribe someone in order to get a decree rescinded. Another letter in Hamlitz (1883) describes such a tactic, which took place during a repeat of the May Decrees of 1882. The letter from Drohitchin stated that in the month of Av [August] of that year, a decree was issued ordering all the Jews living in the villages in the Kobrin region to leave their homes within seven days. Thanks to an "intercession" of a large sum of money, the decree was delayed for a month. In the same issue of Hamelitz, there appeared a letter from someone in Khomsk, a village administered by Drohitchin at that time, whp wrote that the Commissioner of Police of Drohitchin assembled all the Jews of the villages surrounding Drohitchin, and informed them that he had received a decree from Vilna ordering the expulsion of all the Jews from their villages.

It appears, however, that the decree was never put into effect thanks to the implementation of the age-old adage, "money talks."

[photo caption:] Sand alley leading to the hospital.



How many Jews were there in Drohitchin? The number of Jews is not precise, and depends on the economic conditions of the town and the surrounding areas.

According to the official census of 1766, there were 510 Jews in Drohitchin. But there is reason to believe that this number is probably incorrect. It is possible that there were many more Jews, but that the Jews lied about their numbers because they had to pay a head tax of two gilders, regardless of sex. The only exception was for children under a year old.

In 1847 there were 843 Jews in Drohitchin. According to my estimate, the Jewish population in Drohitchin began to decline, and around 1889 there were only approximately 500 souls. Another census, in 1897, indicates that at that time the Jewish population of Drohitchin was 784, and the non-Jewish population 923, meaning that the Jewish population was 45.9 percent. Around 1904, the population of Drohitchin was 2660 inhabitants. We can conjecture that the Jewish population then consisted of around 1300 people. Thereafter, the Jewish population started to increase significantly, thanks to the increasingly favorable economic conditions in Drohitchin, a subject we will address later on.

In 1921, the Jewish population reached 1521, and the non-Jewish population 466. In other words, the Jewish population was 76.5 percent.
The Jewish population increased threefold, to 4500, in only 18 years. How did this great increase come about?

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        Drohitchin was on the road that ran from Brisk [ Brest-Litovsk ] to Pinsk. Because of its geographic location, fairs or markets were frequently held in Drohitchin. Even in 1817, there were 7 fairs there. When the train station was built near Drohitchin (in Nagoria), transportation became even better. This, in turn, led to more economic opportunities in the town, and therefore to the growth in the number of Jews.

As is well known, Drohitchin had many deep marshlands that were difficult to get through, and therefore the local Jews used to wear high boots or galoshes (25.52 percent of Drohitchin and the surrounding area consisted of marshlands). Wearing boots, however, did not reduce the unpleasantness very much. Wooden sidewalks, built around 1905, did improve the lives of the inhabitants of Drohitchin.

In 1910 a road was built from the train station to the city. This improved transportation to and from town. This development gave rise to a lot of new business activity to town, such as mushrooms and egg businesses that shipped their products to Warsaw.

As the economy grew, a bank became necessary; at the end of the nineteenth century ICO opened a bank in Drohitchin. Jews bought stock and became investors in the bank. The bank continued to operate even after the First World War. In 1925, the bank had 247 investors.

An ICO report showed, we see that the aforementioned institution sent an agriculture instructor to teach farming to a few Jews from Drohitchin and surrounding villages who he employed.

[photo caption:] House of Yudel Ravinsky, Yeshayahu-Ber, Fruma and Yitzchak Kahn.

We should note a few catastrophes that occurred in Drohitchin, specifically the famous Drohitchin fires, based on which Drohitchin Jews dated their ages, marriages and their deaths.

The first big fire occurred around 1873, and about which the elderly spoke of with trembling and fear. The second fire took place on Hoshana Rabba [the seventh day of the holiday of Sukkot – Friday Sept. 30] in 1904, and which burned to the ground approximately 25 homes. The third fire broke out in 1910 on Yom Kippur afternoon, and practically half the town went up in smoke.

There is a Yiddish proverb: "A fire will make you rich." Each fire in Drohitchin provided work for builders, painters and other artisans. Drohitchin was rebuilt, and life continued productively until the next fire broke out.



Of the rabbis who had lived in Drohitchin, we were most familiar with Reb Dovid Yaffe, of blessed memory, who lived 150 years ago. Reb Dovid was of the family of Reb Mordechai Yaffe, the author of the famous rabbinical work, Levushim [Garments] . In addition to being a great rabbi, Reb Dovid was also a great kabbalist. Legend has it that he created a golem, though no one knows the fate of this golem. There is a folk expression, however, about the golem, in reference to an idle person: "He walks around like a Drohitchiner golem." It seems that Drohitchin was a hospitable place for the study of Kabbalah. The great kabbalist, Reb Moshe of Drogitchin also lived there.

In addition to kabbalists, Drohitchin also had a community rabbi, a pioneer, who moved to the Holy Land years before the advent of the Lovers of Zion movement. That rabbi, however, was not the only one who left town and settled there. Inscriptions on tombstones on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem show that other Drohitchin Jews lived and died in Palestine as early as the 19th century.

The chassidic movement did not bypass Drohitchin. The chassidic movement put down roots there too, but the people of Drohitchin were more attracted to the more folksy chassidism of Kobrin than the more scholarly chassidism of the closer town, Karlin. The chassidism of Drohitchin also encountered greater opposition from the opponents of chassidism [called Mitnagdim ].

There was once also an attempt to establish a yeshiva in Drohitchin for full-time Torah scholars.

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This was in 1912, and the idea was initiated Reb Meir Kaplan (also known as Meir the Borrower), and Reb Benyomin Moshe, the Ritual Slaughterer. This yeshiva did not last very long, however.

Bright young men in Drohitchin would also travel to the nearby Maltch Yeshiva to learn with Reb Zalman Sender, or to the Slobodka Yeshiva, which produced rabbis and scholars.

The children of Drohitchin would also attend the Talmud Torah [religious elementary school] of Pinsk, where secular studies were also included in the curriculum. Others studied at the Russian schools in Pinsk.

Traces of the Enlightenment also found their place in Drohitchin. In 1883, through the efforts of Yitskhak Rosenkrantz and Shlomo Shedrovitsky, a group of Drohitchin Jews were granted permission to open a school for Jewish boys, and the government sent them a Russian teacher. The teacher didn't have a stitch of work to do because there was no special building to house the school. It seems that the majority of Jews in Drohitchin were still not interested in such school was necessary, giving priority, instead, to the old-fashioned cheders [traditional religious primary schools]. Finally, in 1885, a school was opened with 52 boys and quite a large number of girls.

Of the various community organizations that existed in the 1890s, we should note the Free Loan Society, founded by Reb Moshe Lobendiker, or as he was called, Moshe Badya's [referring to his mother first name]. A large number of Drohitchin Jews belonged to that organization, and each one lent money to the society so that any person in need could obtain an interest-free loan.

Another society also functioned in Drohitchin in those day was the Care for the Infirm Society [called Bikkur Kholim in Orthodox Jewish communities], which would provide the poor with doctors, medicine and nutritious food to eat to help them recover.

The Guest Society [Hakhnasat Orkhim] was another organization; it provided housing and food for the poor.


The nearby large city of Pinsk had an influence on the little town of Drohitchin. The Jews of Drohitchin used to travel to Pinsk to buy their merchandise or to visit doctors; they used to bring back big-city manners and secular ideas from Pinsk.

Pinsk had a strong influence on the youth movement in Drohitchin at the time of the first Russian revolution. The Bund and the S.S. of Pinsk were very successful in recruiting members for their organizations in Drohitchin, and there was much excitement in Drohitchin during that time. The youth of Drohitchin organized a vigilante group, and there were no pogroms during those terrible times. The Drohitchin Jews proudly defended their tradition of courage and determination.

Even during the terrible days of German occupation, many Jews of Drohitchin displayed acts of resistance.

Will we ever again hear about the proud Jews of Drohitchin?

Only G-d knows!



A Thousand Years in Pinsk , N.Y., 1941.

The Book of Kobrin , Tel-Aviv, 1981.

Registry Book of the State of Lithuania , p. 115, Berlin, 1921.

[Hebrew:] Hamelitz , 1882, vol.40; 1883, vols. 18, 59, 60; 1885, vols. 10, 81; 1889, vol. 39; 1890, vol. 17.

[Hebrew:] The Portion of the Law Giver vol. 2, pp. 1, 13, 35; vol. 4, p. 44, Jerusalem.

"[Russian:] Documents Issued by the Vilna Commission for the Collection of Old Documents" Vol. 29, pp. 216-218 Vilna, 1902.

[Russian:] Property Registry, Vol. 2, pp. 123, 495, Vilna 1874.

Journal of the Ministry of Internal Affairs , Vol. 1, pp. 382, 385, Petersburg 1843.

Bobrovsky, "[Russian:] Material for the Geography and Statistics of Russia, Grodno Gubernia" Vol. 1, p. 215; Vol. 2, p. 386.

"[Russian:] Encyclopedic Dictionary," Vol. 21, p. 170.

"[Russian:] Jewish Encyclopedia," Vol. 5, p. 793; Vol. 7, p. 344; Vol. 9, pp. 575-576.

"[Russian:] Memorial Book of the Gubernia of Grodno, " p. 172, Grodno 1905.

"Jewish Colonization Association Report," 1925, 1927, 1930, 1931, (French).

"Zeitschrift" ["Periodical"] Vol. 2-3, pp. 307-378, Minsk, 1928, Zalman Shevinsky and Gedaliah Kaplan.

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