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[ Page 41 ]

they would wear long jackets and dress hats. There was no question of "religious and irreligious." All Jews observed the Sabbath and laws of kashruth and family purity (except for a handful of people). All Jewish homes were considered to be properly religious. This is how ordinary Jewish life was ever since the beginning.

        As mentioned, all cultural and social life centered on the Torah and the House of Study. The Houses of Study were always filled with people, especially on the Sabbath. Even young men who worked for a living would come to the House of Study on the Sabbath. Interestingly enough, even the representative of the secular Yiddish Bund would always show up in the synagogue on the Sabbath. Just like any religious Jew, he would carry his tallith under his arm on his way to synagogue (Drohitchin always had an eruv – a ritual commingling of domains to allow one to carry on the Sabbath), and walk inside holding his children's hands. I remember how we would point at someone who identified with the Enlightenment and say that he "ate before greeting the Sabbath." That man, however, used to go to synagogue early.

[photo:] Shakhna Shul-Ruffer, the custodian of the Street House of Study.

The Sabbath in Drohitchin

        On Friday afternoons, people would already start thinking about the arrival of the Sabbath. In honor of the Sabbath, Jews would go to the public bath, while the housewives would hurry to prepare the chulent [Sabbath stew] in their ovens. The shopkeepers finished up with their last customers, and the custodian of the synagogue, known as the shul-ruffer [shul-caller], would go around town shortly before candle-lighting time and call the Jews to go to synagogue. Right after that the stores would close up, and a short time thereafter the entire weekday hustle and bustle would come to a standstill. All streets were then empty of toiling and busy people. The Jewish homes shone with the light of the Sabbath candles that glowed through the windows. The calm of the Sabbath covered the town. Fathers and their children, dressed up in the Sabbath finery made their way to the synagogue for Sabbath prayers.

        In every House of Study, there was a group of men studying Talmud; every day they studied a page. There were also groups who studied the Mishnah, the anthologies of Eyn Yaakov, the Midrash, the halachic work, Chayei Adam, Bible, psalms, etc. It was like that a whole week. On the Sabbath it was as busy as a beehive.

[Photo:] The New House of Study – From right: Yozep Bezdzhesky, the slaughterer R. Yosef David Shub, Moshe Aharon Berg and Tuvia David Lev.

People were studying at all the tables – some in groups and others by themselves. Even the mundane conversations of the wagon drivers, who chatted under the Torah reading platform near the stove, was a spiritual pleasure and colored with the imprint of the Sabbath.

        All day long on the Sabbath the stores and business were closed up. Even the least religious person didn't dare violate the prohibition. No weekday activity

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was found occurring on the streets. The peasants knew that they had no reason to come into town on the Sabbath. There was a mysterious calm that hovered over the stones of the bridge. Once every so often, the peasants made a noise or disturbance that broke the Sabbath stillness in Drohitchin. Those quiet streets were used by the Jews going to and from synagogue, or going on a stroll on Sabbath afternoons after the chulent stew. This is what a Jewish town looked like there in faraway Polesia. Drohitchin was a miniature Jerusalem.

[Photo:] The Sand Street in 1935. A Sabbath calm covered the stones of the bridge.

Charitable Activities

         It was the same thing in the areas of kashruth, family purity and charity. There were no kashruth supervisors, and anyone was able to eat a kosher meal in anyone else's home. Drohitchin Jews also gave a lot of money to charity and provided for the needs of visitors. There was never a Sabbath when there wasn't a preacher or charity collector in town, or even ordinary visitors. Everyone received contributions with a smile.

[Photo:] Shimshon Goldman's family. From right: Mordechai, Henya-Chaya (mother), Shlomo Zelig (son), Esther, Yaakov, Tsippe, Shashke (daughter), Peretz, Esther, Zvi Weingarten (son-in-law), Rachel (daughter-in-law), Hadassah, Yitzchak Goldman (son-in-law).

        Every poor person who came to town had his "day" or "Sabbath." A long-standing custom was that the custodian of the synagogue (of each synagogue) sent a "Sabbath note," and each Sabbath a different householder would receive a poor visitor with his note for a meal or meals, or even for a weekday meal. There was also a place where poor visitors were able to sleep at no charge. For many years there was also a respite and health care service that provided assistance with doctors and medicine for those in need. The service also provided the ill with overnight company so they would not be alone, and people also provided anonymous charity so as not to embarrass the recipients.

[Photo:] From left: Avraham Baum, Sheinke Baum-Warshavsky, Odel Eisenstein-Buder and B. Warshavsky near the bridge.

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