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[Columns 331-332]

The Amateur Theater[1]

by Moishe Katchke

Translated by Selwyn Rose


I don't know, nor will I ever know if any remember the restrictions placed upon Yiddish theatrical productions by the Tsarist regime in 1907, populating different areas including Vohlin. It seems the restriction came as a collective punishment on the Jews for their participation in the 1904/05 Revolution.

I remember the group of Jewish actors' great success at their presentation at the local theater for a number of weeks, of their production in 1907. I was a young man at the time and one summer Saturday night that same year, I saw their presentation of “Hertzel'eh Ha-Meyuhas” before a standing-room only audience. At the end of the performance, word spread that it had been the last one and it seems as if I can still hear the rustle of surprised voices throughout the hall at the announcement of the prohibition to continue and that the ban had so suddenly come upon Dubno.

Thus that summer brought an end to the Jewish theater until the days of the Kerensky revolution.

The Jewish population of Dubno felt a great loss with the cessation of the Yiddish production especially the working classes, since the Intelligentsia were able to patronize the Russian theater or the Ukrainian operettas like “Kamara(?)” and “Natalka Poltavka” and only the general population remained without entertainment. There was no permanent movie theater in those years except a mobile one that would appear from time to time featuring a number of shows in the “Rathaus” hall.

In the meantime at the end of 1914 a rumor was heard in Dubno that a group of amateur players in Rivne was renewing the presentation of Jewish plays; the income would be devoted to treating the war-injured and the permission for it was obtained from the Tsar's eldest daughter who administered the military hospitals in Rivne. Following the rumor, the group of Jewish amateurs in Dubno joined together for a great struggle: it was decided to present Goldfaden's “Bar Kochba”.

Also when I was young I was occasionally given a place in the chorus because of my voice. The rehearsals took place in the rooms of Tov'leh Peled (Tovel the shoemaker) in Stare Street with the following cast:

  1. Wolf, the son-in-law of Brindle the seamstress, a mature baritone who could read music very well - played the role of Bar Kochba;
  2. Mrs. Maria Kozier, the daughter of the old woman from Pantalya, a rich soprano and acting ability – cast as Dina the fiancée of Bar Kochba
  3. Lazar Barchash, owner of a tinsmith shop opposite the city well, was cast as Eliezer, Dina's father.
  4. Benzie, Tov'leh Peled's son-in-law; 5. Avraham, Yohanan Spektor's son, tenor; 6. Berl Shojcher, bass; 7. Myself, the youngest and others – the chorus.
We rehearsed for a couple of weeks. The hall was already engaged and messengers sent to Rivne to the government office to obtain the license for a Yiddish production for the benefit of wounded soldiers – but there was no permission and – as people say NO! With a capital 'N'! for the amateurs of Dubno and all our toil had been in vain. Again silence rang down the curtain on the Jewish stage – until the Revolution.




[Columns 333-334]

After the festival of Shavuot in 1918, when I returned from Czechoslovakia after a stay of three years, I discovered from an announcement that the local amateurs were going to present in the near future the musical “David's Harp” using the premises of the local dignitary, Mr. Greenberg. When that same evening I approached the booking office to buy tickets, my friends Haim Feinghort(?),(today in the USA) and Herschel Wilner (today in Buenos Aires), who told me that a certain actor who had been cast to play the part of Startist(?) was unable to appear and I could be his replacement if I agreed to do so. I couldn't refuse the request of my old friends and we immediately went back-stage to the dressing-rooms so that I could make-up and dress for the role – in this particular instance – that of a woman.

As a youth I appeared in the play “David's Harp” in that same role that was also played by another young man and the fact that it was that of a female made no difference – except for the wearing of a woman's red wig with a plait hanging down the back and her little finger of her right hand held constantly between her lips all the time hanging on to her father's caftan. Occasionally the father would slap her hand and tell her to take her finger out of her mouth although Tehilah – that was the role's name – obstinately goes her own way and from time to time bursts into a wild neighing laugh.

The audience never discovered that I was a boy and the role of a simpleton that I played made a great impression. Eventually, at the end, when the audience expected the players to appear on stage and – as is usual without their make-up – I, too, removed my wig and before the audience stood not a girl but a young man…

Spontaneous applause broke out in the hall and from that time I belonged to the group of amateur players as an active member. The members of the group were:

Haim Feinghort, Meir Talberstein(?), Herschel Wilner, Shlomo Lederman, Lazar Eisenberg, Manny Kinstein, W. Poticha, Liza Rosenfeld, Bilha Kram and the writer of these lines.



The season didn't last long, at the most until the beginning of 1919. Then the power moved from Hetman Skoropadski to Petliura. On the eve of the Purim festival in 1919 the local villagers organized themselves in order to oust Petliura's men from the town and the following day the resurgent leadership based in one of the villages began moving towards town in the hundreds, Ukrainians from the suburbs of Zabramya to Surmicze and to the barracks the central



[Columns 335-336]

Bottom row, right to left: Diner, Nahum Katchke;
Second row: Rachel Luwshit, Lulke Kram, Sonny Freidman, M. Katchke;
Third row: Itka, Fishbein, Rivka Warech, Miriam Mendelberg, Paltenzon, Ita Frankel, Hanna Falk;
Fourth row: Poticha Michal, Gochberg Avraham, Goshkis Avraham, Gochberg, jun.;
Fifth row: Warech, Pressman Shamai


meeting point of the Sitschower and Galician units of Petliura forces. These regiments were stunned at the sight of the weapon-bearing Ukrainian civilians advancing upon them and retreated in panic as far as the railroad station intending to flee the place. At that same time the revolutionaries were about to encircle the station approaching from the direction of nearby villages but the encirclement wasn't fulfilled because the Sitsower unit began bombarding them and they retreated with heavy losses. From the railroad station the Sitsower forces returned to town and began hunting for whoever they could find and thus twenty-one young people, suspected of belonging to the young Jewish activists fell into their hands. These young people were brutally slaughtered and their bodies cast into an open pit near the White Barracks.

After that black Purim many young people fled Dubno to the various surrounding communities and I escaped to a small hamlet on the road. There I chanced to meet Hershe'le Wilner and Eisenstadt, also from Dubno. The local Jews were as if from another continent – living quietly and undisturbed. Unemployment brought us to seek out public activity and together with the local young people we staged a musical play with the accompaniment of a local orchestra. We also staged a production of “The Estimable Hertz'la“. The successs brightened our lives and the income was dedicated to the local charitable organizations.

After a short time I returned to Dubno but 1919 to 1920 were years of invasions - for a start the communists and the Poles after them, mobilization followed mobilization with no settled organization or order. Only in 1921-1922 did life return to normal when the Poles and the Russians finally came to some kind of peace agreement. Then the Jewish youth of Dubno became united with charitable Zionist organizations such as “Leinat Ha-Tzedek” and local hospitals. (Leinat Ha-Tzedek filled a most important function among the needy classes by reaching out with medical assistance and was always in need of financial assistance). Also

[Columns 337-338]

the Jewish “Amateur Theatrical Group” renewed its activities and new young members were added: N. Kram; Chaika Feinlitt(?); Moshe Pinchosovich; Feyga Valder and Shmuel Toister, Feyga's husband.

The first play we staged was “Bubbeh Yachneh” (Grandma Yachneh [“gossip”]). Moshe Pinchosovich took upon himself the role of the likeable 'grandma' and it was he who brought a rousing success to the production. It was his last appearance but before every opening night he would come to rehearsals and give his professional observations and for us, the young actors, his criticisms were welcomed from all aspects.

We mostly staged dramas and operettas accompanied by the Dubno orchestra among whose players were: Moshe Streiner (violin), Mendel Katchke (clarinet), and Eliyahu Kagan (piano). In time we staged the following: “The Witch”, “Chinka Pinka(?)”, “The Village Boy”, “The American”, “The Yeshiva Boy”, “David's Harp”, “The Estimable Hertz'le“, „The Dybukk“, and “The wise scholar”. The group had its own regular prompter, Eliyahu Centner. Lazar Eizenberg was in charge of scenery and the barber, Fichanyuk(?) was the make-up artist.

The preparation for the production was as follows:

First of all we read the text and afterwards allocated the roles. As is usual with the “hoi-polloi” the allocation of roles did not go forward peacefully or without jealousy and gossip. For two weeks after there were rehearsals the last of which – with all the associated “business” – took place on stage. On opening night the cast came early to make-up and attend to their costumes and with all the hurry and scurry and hesitancies the curtain went up. Obviously there were errors but the audience was not aware of them and the applause and acceptance were encouraging.

In 1925 the group began to disperse, this one for that reason and that one for another and the group separated. Wilner immigrated to Argentina, Haim Feinghort and Leah Rosenfeld to the United States and the writer of these lines to Mandated Palestine. With the vacuum created in the group by the loss of the veterans their places began to be filled with a group of artisans. At their head were Avraham Katchke, Ya'acov Pergamen and Meir Kubinius(?) who were among the management. The productions were reduced to a variety of “sketches” of one type or another.

It is necessary to note that from 1922 until 1925 a number of activities gathered around the Histadrut that displayed an interest in the theater. The group took part in the academic productions and dances and created a pleasant choir conducted by the Hebrew teacher Balaban (of blessed memory).


The cast of “Heroes of Kastinia”

[Columns 339-340]

At the end of 1928 when I came to Dubno from Palestine on a visit to my family, I came to know the branch of “Hechalutz”. Its members who knew something of my history resolutely insisted that I produce something of “Zionist Pioneering” concerning which they had little or no suitable material. I prepared a sort of “audition” among the boys and girls in the branch and discovered considerable talent and from these I created a presentation in three acts of what is occurring in Palestine, together with songs and many dances - all directed to the wholesomeness of the “Hechalutz”. The name of the show was “Strength of the Hechalutz or The Heroes of Kastinia”. The committee formed from among the members Avraham Hoz, Avraham Hochberg and others confirmed the success of the production with much fanfare. As the writer and producer of the play I was very proud and the participants were full of enthusiasm and excitement while the technical aspects and script were of a high standard. Most of the visitors were from Zionist circles and their supporters and unanimously expressed the opinion that in a short hour they felt that their spirits had been transferred to the Land of Israel. The play was also staged in surrounding towns Varkovichi, Demidovka and Berestechko. The effervescent content so excited the many national pioneering youngsters that at the beginning of the thirties many immigrated to Mandatory Palestine. With that came the end of acting and popular theatrical productions in Dubno and the county.


Translator's Footnote
  1. Translator's comment: In spite of endless attempts and searches, both in Hebrew and in English, word by word, through tens of references on the internet, professionally related to the topic, I was unable to find English language verification for several of the productions mentioned, especially (and unexpectedly) those of Avraham Goldfaden and one or two other names, etc. I ask the understanding of the reader. Return

[Columns 345-346]

Matzo-Making Machines Come to Dubno

by Moshe Cohen

Translated by Selwyn Rose

At the end of the nineteenth century a rumor spread around town that in the big cities, like Odessa, Kharkov, Warsaw and others they were beginning to bake matzot with machines. Only a few years later there appeared in our home a family member from Odessa Mr. Yisroel Shochet and introduced himself to my father as a specialist with matzo-making machines. He even brought with him wooden molds for producing the machine parts and proposed to my father that they create a partnership in a “modern” matzo-baking bakery. My father considered the proposition and agreed to it; he gave his partner the necessary amount of money and the man went to the factory in Młynów to order the castings for the machines.

This was in the autumn of 1903.

In the meantime my father looked for a suitable site for a bakery with storage space for the flour and the finished matzot, rented a half-destroyed house of the sexton's wife, facing the synagogue. He made the necessary repairs and installed the special oven. In addition he rented a storage space in Soroka Street for the flour and in Yankel Groipen's house in the same street a place to store the matzot.

The machine parts arrived and Mr. Yisroel Shochet erected them and prepared them for operation.

On Tu B'Shvat (15th Shvat), 1st February 1904 the oven was lighted for the first time. Everything was ready to begin the baking and the local Rabbis, conspicuous citizens and community leaders were invited to come and see the bakery in operation and grant the necessary certification for Kashrut. After the exacting examination the certificate was given. But with the appearance of the matzot in the market it became clear that one important fact had not been taken into account: The Jews of Dubno were accustomed to round matzot…

That same year only 40% of the baked matzot for Passover were sold while the rest were sold after the festival at half-price. The financial loss was heavy.

In the autumn 1904 my father sold the machines to Moshe Kalinowski for 150 Rubles – a small proportion of what had been his total investment in the above business. Indeed after a few years bakeries were founded in Dubno for baking matzot not only for the Jews of Dubno but also for the other larger communities of Poland.

[Columns 347-348]

Matzo Baking in Dubno

by B. Bardigo

Translated by Selwyn Rose

Dubno was one of the towns in Poland to start baking matzot mechanically instead of manually. My father (of blessed memory) Mr. Yehuda, initiated a foundry belonging to a Count, for the casting of machine-parts for the production of matzo in Młynów at the beginning of the First World War. My father prepared the drawings for the casting, the result was satisfactory and Dubno began producing machine-made matzot. The factory grew with the years and created work for 400 workers especially during the winter months when there was usually considerable unemployment from January until April. The quality of the matzot created a good name for Dubno matzot and the product reached as far as Belgium.

It is easy to speculate that the orthodox Rabbanut[1] tried very hard to block the production that deviated in some respects from accepted norms for baking matzot but in 1934-1936 its attitude changed for the better because the benefits to the factory and to Dubno were so conspicuous that the Rabbanut could no longer ignore it. By chance the pioneering youth organization “Gordonia”[2] also benefitted from the factory, in that its members received employment during those same years – especially during the cold months - from the unexpected source.

For the years 1912-1914 the supply of flour came from the water-powered flour-mill rented by Mr. Yakira and his family although at the time of the Austrian invasion when there was no wheat, the town's Rabbi declared it permissible to use hulled wheat. During the hard years 1916-1917 the bakery operated as a cooperative, while in 1920 the industrialist from £ódŸ, Menahem Holler came to Dubno and introduced a new effervescent vitality into the industry both in the wholesale manufacture of matzot and the special packaging in cartons. The quantity of water used by Mr. Holler was very small and as a result his matzot were especially dry and crisp and the quantity he was able to export to certain locations amounted to ten thousand kilograms. Mr. Holler brought his flour from the town of £utsk. He also succeeded in acquiring from the Rabbi Velvel'eh religious clearance for a general bakery both within and outside the town.


Baking matzot

[Columns 349-350]

We can learn of the advances in the industrial preparation of matzot from fact that from1931 the whole industry became mechanized and non-Jewish employees also worked in the bakeries, under the critical supervision of the rabbinical inspectors.

From 1925 six mechanized matzo bakeries operated in Dubno: Alter Phaltz; the Great Synagogue bakery; the bakery of Hertz Tessler. The town notable, Czerkas himself supplied one-hundred and twenty thousand kilograms of matzot between 1925 and 1934 for sale outside Dubno. Before the Second World War Dubno produced to Lvov, Pashamyzl(?), £ódŸ, Warsaw, Bialystok, Katowice, Posen, Tarnow and Piotrków. There were even enthusiastic purchasers in Antwerp for Dubno's matzot.


Translator's Footnotes
  1. The Rabbinical council. Return
  2. “Gordonia” was a Zionist youth movement. The movement's doctrines were based on the beliefs of Aaron David Gordon, i.e. the salvation of Eretz Yisrael and the Jewish People through manual labor and the revival of the Hebrew language. For a full description see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gordonia_youth_movement Return

[Columns 349-350]

Zionism – and its Reward

by Aviezer Zaks

Translated by Selwyn Rose

We all know the event took place in 1906.

That same year I was living in Dubno, Vohlin County in Russia. Around the same time in partnership with three friends we opened a private school; it was a “Heder Metukan[1] – we taught Hebrew in the Hebrew language and the institution earned a good reputation among the public. “Heder Metukan” was understandably not well-liked by the older established traditional and learned scholars who opened a concerted opposition to us, not even hesitating to tittle-tattle against us vindictively… in fact we were virtually all, professionally suited to the task and each one of us had in his possession some kind of official document from the inspector of schools and educational establishments proving our fitness for the role of educator. Nevertheless, what needs to be added is an understanding of the expression “professionally suited” in the framework of the times because then – like now – much depended on “who you know” and “who knows you”.

It was during this period that the Zionists convened a province-wide – in effect, national – conference in the town of Rivne. In Dubno the two delegates chosen were the writer and poet Mr. Zalman Ashkenazi of blessed memory, and myself. The delegates to the congress came from Dubno, Kamyanetz (Komenetz) and other places close to the Austrian border. Also taking part in the conference was the noted Zionist leader Menahem Sheinkin of blessed memory and the government-recognized Rabbi from Balta Podolia. The council conducted itself formally with elected chairmen, secretaries, veteran party members, an opposition, supporters of Herzl's ideology and those of Ususshkin's – all of them pushing to make speeches most of them saying little new. During the closing ceremonies when all the delegates were gathered together to honor Sheinkin, a delegate from one of the villages close to the border stood up and began to give voice to a serious problem: He described in touching words the fate of many refugees who had left Russia with no official passport. Their misfortune was to fall into the hands of many so-called “agents” and border smugglers. It was because of this that he had come to claim the attention and ears of the gathered Zionists, especially those from the border villages, that even though it was


Author and poet Aviezer Zaks

[Columns 351-352]

not specifically a core Zionist issue it behoove them to form aid committees to be present when their trains arrive at railway stations to welcome them, assist them, to assist them with advice and support in safeguarding their property and belongings from would-be thieves and similar vagabonds. The Zionists must prove, he asserted, that they are the sensitive and active part of the people. After this delegate's comments the party commenced and praises and compliments were showered on the head of Sheinkin – there were those who compared him to the Maccabees while others to Bar-Kochba, and those paying the compliments returned time and time again on their flowery expressions of praise.

While the party was still in full swing a cable from Dubno was handed to me; it was from my colleague at the school and he informed me that the police had come and closed our “Heder Metukan” because “it was illegal for several teachers to be giving instruction while gathered together under one roof” and only the inspector sitting in Kamyanetz had the authority to re-interpret the law and he was the only one who could give permission to reopen the “Heder Metukan”.

Present at the party was a noted delegate from Kamyanetz named Meshullam (his family name escapes me) and when he heard of the “Heder Metukan” issue he promised me that he would grant me every possible assistance if I will approach him in Kamyanetz. I bid farewell to all my colleagues and hastened to the railroad station while the ceremony was still in progress, in order to arrive at Kamyanetz without delay.

Here we are aboard the train flying towards Kamyanetz and at one of the small stations a Jewish woman burst into the railcar loaded down with innumerable parcels and packages. In great agitation she told us that this is the third night she finds herself wandering around on the railways – she comes from Kyiv (Kiev) and this night she has to be in Kamyanetz and from there to a small village near the border where an “agent” will be waiting for her and together with other Jews she will be smuggled over the border. From there she will travel to her husband in America.

A warm glow swept through me and I instantly heard the echo of the delegate calling upon us to aid our brethren in distress… I sat her down on the seat and arranged all her belongings in a pile and offered her some food to revive her soul. She recovered her composure somewhat and leaning back in her seat quickly fell asleep while I sat there and looked after her belongings. At every single station ticket inspectors came aboard and woke all the sleeping passengers and checked the tickets of everyone. “Our” Jewish woman opened one eye, produced her ticket and immediately fell asleep again. Thus the night hours passed until we arrived at Kamyanetz. Here she awoke and began to gather together all her belongings and pushed her way towards the door while I stood by and helped to make way for her. By doing this I became the last person in the car and returned to my seat to collect my suitcase and what did I see before my eyes? A woman's coat lying precisely in the place the woman had been sitting. It was clearly hers. I picked it up and hurried off the train turning this way and that to see if I could spot her along the platform – but she was nowhere to be seen so she had certainly already left the station.

I took the coat to the station-master's office and said to him: “Sir, please take this woman's coat from me, I found it left behind in the train just arrived from Rivne, in the place where she had been sitting The officer caught hold of my arm and led me into a side-room where he ordered me to shake the contents of the coat's pockets out and also to empty my own pockets all the time questioning me as to my identity, where I was from, where I was going and then asked for my passport.

I said: “Officer! What have I done that you should question me so?”

He replied: “We know plenty of “birds” like you, finding lost property left behind in the railway carriages…”

I said: “But I'm the one who brought this article to you.”

He replied: “Nobody asked you to take the coat from where you found it and bring it to me”!

Everything turned dark before my eyes with the look of suspicion in the officer's face. What a nice thing that's going to be to stand before a magistrate in a Dubno court. Even if I am cleared what will the world think, especially the teachers, about “the matter of the woman's coat”? How would you yourself feel before all of creation knowing you are innocent?

I pleaded with the officer for understanding and a measure of forgiveness but his reply was a vehement “No!”

“We know you Yids!” he shouted at me loudly. “Who knows if you don't belong to some damned gang or other? And even if what you say is true and you don't belong to any gang – even so what you did was against the law! Who are you to me? Let the judge deal with you in your town of Dubno; let him decide who and what you are! We'll see each other; in the meantime get out of my sight!”

My insides churned in anger but what could I do? Having no option I went to Kamyanetz and there I found the delegate Meshullam. With released anger I told him the story of “the woman's coat and the official”. Meshullam broke down in laughter, took out a note of three rubles and sent it to the inspector to appease his feelings and my passport was returned to me and not only that but the inspector also renewed my teacher's certificate for our “Heder Metukan

Happy and full of satisfaction I returned to Dubno.


Translator's Footnote
  1. Heder Metukan” was a late “spin-off” from the Jewish “Enlightenment” period known as “Haskala” a response to Jewish traditional, orthodox Rabbinical Judaism. One of its more obvious and immediate “pillars” was the introduction of education for the children in Hebrew rather than only Yiddish or other National language. Return

[Columns 353-354]


by B. Elimelech

Translated by Selwyn Rose

An ancient town indeed is Dubno in the County of Vohlin and many years ago was famous for her scholars and geniuses. There, there was an equally old Beit Ha-Midrash carrying the name “Or-Torah” and there sat the scholars of the town day and night busy with studying Torah. All who passed by the building, either by day or by night, heard the voice – the voice of Ya'acov - and said: “That can only be a house of G-d.” Except on Friday, from noon until the hour of welcoming the Shabbat, then the voices were stilled. The sad tones penetrating the heart and soul, the sound of the Gemara being studied and in the building silence reigned, a holy silence, and only the sound of the sexton's footsteps could be heard echoing throughout the building as he walked about. During these hours the scholars prepared themselves, purifying their bodies in the ritual baths readying themselves to greet the Queen –Shabbat, while the sexton cleans the candle-sticks and places in them the Shabbat candles, changes the decorated curtain of the Holy Ark with its Shabbat counterpart, fills the bowl with water for washing the hands and changes the towels for clean ones – all to honor the Shabbat.

While all this was happening, there dwelt a Jew in Breslau (Wrocław), Germany. The man, an illiterate peasant, knew no Torah as such and kept no Commandments; he had no sons. The man had heard of the Jews of the countries of Eastern Europe, knew of them being immersed in the living Torah and keeping the Commandments, performing acts of charity every day of their lives with their hearts and souls drawn to G-d. His heart was drawn to them more and more as each day passed; at night he was unable to sleep and all his food lost its flavor as it passed his lips for his soul yearned after his brethren in the lands of the east. And the day came when he said to his wife: “Why are we dwelling among the Christians? The Torah we know not, neither do we keep the Commandments of G-d and the day of our fate will arrive we shall be buried in the graves of the Christians and our names will be erased from the memory of Man for we have no son to remember us or to pray for our souls after our death. Come! Let us leave this place and walk to where our brethren, the Children of Israel dwell and settle ourselves with them and there we will learn from them to keep the Commandments of G-d and walk in His ways and when we walk the way of all the earth we will be buried in a grave of Israel and perhaps there will even be found good people who will pray the Kaddish prayer after we pass away and we will rest on our eternal resting place in peace.”

His wife agreed to his proposal, and they arose and departed thence. And they walked from the west to the east and came unto the place that was called the “Lower (earthly) Garden of Eden”[3] which is at the “navel” of the country called Ukraine. Broad fields of arable land spread around and forests of sturdy oak trees with stout branches such, that the early settlers called the place “Dubno”. And the man and his wife came to the place and dwelt there in Dubno.[4] And they were happy when they saw they had come to a place of Torah and the fear of Heaven and they said: “If we are unversed in Torah and the Commandments, we will observe well what they do and we will do as they do and become like unto them and their teachers and scholars and their righteous ones will protect us with their Torah and their good deeds.” And G-d blessed the deeds of the man and he prospered in the land and became rich. All the princes, nobles and owners of estates favored him and made of him a trader and merchant. This one sold him the produce of his fields and that the lumber of his forests; another rented him his distillery and yet another, his rivers with their fish while his brethren, dwellers of the place found their sustenance and livelihood with him because of his good heart, and all his wishes were that his brethren should live with honor and not know want.

And the man did much charity for the poor of the town. With the approach of the Passover festival he supplied them with Passover flour from his flour mills and sent a fattened bull to the slaughter and the meat he distributed to them and fish from his rivers; and the stories spread of his good deeds both seen and unseen and multiplied endlessly. But the wise men looked not favorably upon him; they gossiped about him sitting bare-headed in the homes of nobles without even a yarmulke. Even tea he would drink from the cup of the nobles, shaking them by the hand on both entering and leaving their homes, even believers in paganism and astrology – and more and more terrible acts such as these.

And it came to pass, when he waxed old he said unto his wife: “Behold I have grown old and grey and even you my wife have become so and soon the way of all the earth will come upon us… and we have no son and no daughter to remember our name. Come, let us perform some deed that there shall be some remembrance of our name in the land of the living, in the place where we have dwelt. And the man and his wife sat together and considered in their hearts what they might do that their name should be remembered. And they decided to build from anew the Beit Ha-Midrash - Or-Torah and call it by their name as a memorial for them. When the rumor came to the ears of the scholars they were shocked and their anger burned within them. “How can such a thing be,” they said, “what insolence! That this peasant should build a house of study for the learned of Dubno!? By what right? No! His request shall not be granted! We shall not receive from his hand such a gift. It is better that we should crowd ourselves into our old house rather receive a gift from this peasant.” The man pleaded with them to accept the gift and others also approached them in his name to persuade them – but in vain. And the man was greatly saddened and without hope.

And there came a day when the man sat in the home of one of the nobles discussing business and the noble looked upon him and saw the man's countenance was sad and asked of him: “Why is your face so fallen and sad, my friend?” And the man told him of what had befallen him. And the nobleman said unto him: “I will give you advice and if you do as I say you will succeed. Arise, purchase the land next to the Beit Ha-Midrash and prepare timber and all the other materials for the construction. On Friday noon, when the scholars are to be found in the bath-house, let my servants and serfs come in their numbers and in one hour they will demolish

[Columns 355-356]

the old building and erect the new one in its place. After it is done the scholars will no longer oppose it and will acquiesce and compromise in the matter of the new building.” The words seemed good in the eyes of the man and he did so.

Friday noon the scholars left the Beit Ha-Midrash – they all went to bathe in preparation for the Shabbat. And indeed when they came to greet the Shabbat eve – Agh! What villainy has this peasant done: has he destroyed the Beit Ha-Midrash of the scholars to its foundations and raised a new one in its place? The anger of the scholars burned against him and in the heat of their rage they all left and went to the synagogue in town. A scamp like that! What a nerve he has!...

And the man hid his face from the anger that sought to tear him to shreds.

Days passed; the storm passed and the anger abated. But the new building stood silent and abashed. None crossed the thresh-hold. And the man's grief was as deep as the ocean. He went to the scholars and begged them to return to the new building but they adamantly refused – they were firm and unequivocal. It was impossible to change their mind. No! NO!!

The day came when the man went to the Great Fair held in the town of Leipzig and he bought there three articles of value at a high price: a wonderful clock; an expensive lamp embedded with precious stones that by some hidden means extinguished itself after the prayers on the Shabbat eve when the last of the congregation left the Beit Ha-Midrash; and a copper bowl for hand washing that, according to all the signs was the bowl made in the days of Moses our Teacher from the copper mirrors made by the women decorating the Sanctuary in the wilderness and donated by them, their most precious possession, to make the bowl…[5]

And the man brought the three wonderful gifts to the Beit Ha-Midrash and enticed the scholars to accept the gifts and return to the building. And the hearts of the scholars were softened and they were reconciled and said unto him: “We are returning to the Beit Ha-Midrash that you have built and accept the gifts that you have brought for it. Even more we will do unto you: the building shall be called in your name The Breslau Beit Ha-Midrash in order that there shall be for you a memorial for ever. But there is one condition attached to this: because you destroyed the old building without our permission and authorization and brought impure and gentile articles into this Holy Sanctuary, your seat shall be next to this basin in this Beit Ha-Midrash all the days of your life: not in the east, and not the west, not on the benches to the south, nor the benches of the north but only by the basin”.

And the man accepted upon himself the judgment and all the scholars returned to the “Beit Ha-Midrash” and again the voice of the Torah was heard loud as in before times.

And the man sat by the basin whenever he came into the Beit Ha-Midrash. And indeed the building was called in his name The Breslau Beit Ha-Midrash until this day. But at the time of the great fire that befell Dubno the clock and the Menorah were consumed and only the basin remained since the fire was unable to consume it.

All who come to Dubno go to see the wondrous basin.


Translator's Footnotes
  1. I draw the reader's attention the style in which I have translated sections of this narrative; there is no doubt in my mind that the author deliberately chose to emulate a biblical-style story and I felt it proper to follow his wishes as far as I was able. Return
  2. Or-Torah literally translated means “'Light' of the Torah”. Return
  3. The Talmudists and Cabalists agree that there are two gardens of Eden: one, the terrestrial, of abundant fertility and luxuriant vegetation; the other, celestial, the habitation of righteous, immortal souls. These two are known as the “lower” and “higher” Gan Eden. The location of the earthly Eden is traced by its boundaries as described in Genesis. See also a complete, highly esoteric discussion of the concept between the “lower” and “upper” gardens and their location(s) here: http://jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/5428-eden-garden-of . Return
  4. The word “dub” means “oak” in Russian and Ukrainian hence the place was called “Dubno”. Return
  5. Rashi explains that the women made mirrors from polished copper and were thus able to make themselves more attractive to their husbands and by donating them to the Tabernacle were losing their only means of beautifying themselves. Rashi goes on to explains that at first the mirrors were rejected by Moses because they were a symbol of pride, vanity and wantonness but the Holy One, blessed be He, said to him, “Accept them; these are dearer to Me than all the other contributions, because through them the women reared numerous hosts in Egypt!.” (With thanks to Chabad Rabbi Mendel Adelman for this interpretation). Return

[Columns 355-356]

The Mourners of Dubno

(Illustrations from Volhyn: Dubner Smetkes)[1]

by Moshe Berger

Translated by Jerrold Landau

I am sad in your midst, Dubno, very sad.

You are surrounded by areas of rivers and lakes. You dwell in a wide area, a straight area, broad, and divided into alleyways, yards, streets. You are somnolent, calm, and monotonous. You exude silence.

Dubno has no mountains around it. There are no heights. At the time of youth, a Dubno native has a perspective of breadth: The waters of the Ikva River move through it and nurture it. However, the tortuousness, the sidewalks and roads were constructed by the residents themselves, the work of their hands.

This city has some tall, stone houses, as a hint to what all people have. There was an electric power station and an old artesian well in the heart of the city. At the center of the city, during the nights, weak rays of flashlights flicker here and there. However, the waters of the artesian well flow slowly, as if they became congealed and rotted in the rusty pipes.

The streets are silent here, as if overtaken by the Sabbath sleep. They are silent and somnolent. The youths gather in the evening and “spend time” in a modest, discreet fashion.

There are youths who sell newspapers and offer shoeshines – two types of youths who were raised by the mother-town. There is nothing here. What is the hurry? Here

[Columns 357-358]

people disturb them and go down to the newspaper agents – hello, my soul! Life here has no independent form or accent. Dubno has nothing that is worthwhile for outsiders to see. There is nothing – it is as if you can grasp everything while standing on one foot. One cannot even get lost in Dubno.

Here, there is no local patriotism of people who love their native town. A Dubno native is not pampered. He takes no pleasure from his connection to his city. It is as if he does not feel an emotion or sense of warmth at all.

Dubno of the past, greater Dubno, was a city of Misnagdim and scholars. It was set like a sandbar in the heart of the sea of Volhynian-Podolian Hassidism. It was confined within its four ells of didactic glitter, of Talmudic disputes and differences of opinion. Here, the dry Talmudic mind pervaded even outside the walls of the study hall. In essence, the Talmudic tractate was the bounds of the world. Admorim (Hassidic masters) did not take their lives into their hands to cross through the entrance gates of the city. It was mortally dangerous to be trapped within the camp of scholarly buffoons. Hassidim would find no rest there.

“What is the enthusiasm and devotion for me, oh soul? What will be with Torah and scholarship? Are you expert in the small letters?…”

The renown of the scholars of the city spread afar in a praiseworthy fashion. Its rabbis were honored even far from the bounds of the city. Dubno had ambition. Its rabbis reached as far as the gates of Amsterdam. Today, the pages of the Talmud turn yellow and disintegrate on their shelves, as the Beis Midrashes are abandoned. Spider webs are spun at the entrance. With the suppression of the light of Torah and the silencing of the voices of the studiers, the splendor of the appointed seasons of Dubno has been removed. It is sad here.

There are no evil ones of the land, and no righteous ones of the world. There is no milk, and no meat. It is simply pareve[2]. There are no heights and no depths. A type of spirit of “that is the way it is” pervades here. There are no strong attainments or energy even in matters of This World[3]. Here, the wealthy people are mainly those who lend for interest. They are the usurers of years gone by. Their ideal is vocher – i.e. set weekly interest. Their bookkeeping ledger is in their apron pocket. Their list of surety is hidden in a chest. Certainty is always good…

The world war certainty affected it only because of its rivers, roadways, and railway lines. For, on the other hand, who would come to spill blood on the furnace of such a city? The ancient synagogue was also in ruins. The fine wall was burnt. The valuable, holy objects were abandoned. In their time, they were brought to the depths of Russia, and were not returned to Dubno after the war. Today, the synagogue stands as a reminder of iniquity, awaiting repair.

There are destroyed streets there, scattering into dust. Smokestacks stick out as if in shame from the ruins of the baking ovens. There are cold ovens through which gusts of wind blow.

Here, there are no builders. There is no need for such. It is as if Dubno has been frozen from below. The city marketplace is grasped by idleness. It is empty of anything and everything. There are unused benches there. The joyous shouts of babies are not heard. Childhood games, of which the mothers and caregivers are concerned about, do not exist here.

There are gloomy thoughts of Tisha B'av. Only despair pervades in the gardens. The splendid avenues along Panienjaska Street, covered with giant linden trees, the branches of which intertwine and stick to each other, are also immersed in their loneliness and longing for the youth, who were always filled with laughter, pranks, and mischief. It was as if they were pleading: come, draw near… enjoy yourselves in the shadow of our branches! Come and bask in the greenery of our canopies… Come, immerse yourselves in kisses.

There is no shortage in Dubno of the bounty of green trees, fresh air, and clear river waters. On the contrary, it is crowned with a bounty of fruitfulness, everything in generous proportion. The pollution of the outlying cities does not exist here. Dubno is not a remote town. However, in essence, nobody has need for this cleanliness. There is no benefit to anyone from the splendid “Palestinian” market – it is far from the city, it takes excess effort to get there, and oppressive silence pervades there as well. There is nobody to listen to the songs and hymns of life. There is no exultation of boat drivers upon the horizon of the clear rivers. Only during the summertime do the masses go out to the “Pantaliya”, to the bridge decorated with green, pliable willow branches. They stroll there and enjoy the pleasant aroma of cut hay. Slowly and with short steps do they stroll, and they hurry back to the city toward evening. Once again, the boredom of the summer pervades, sapping from you all desire and all internal content.

Apparently, Dubno has all the characteristics to make it vibrant and bustling: It is situated on the crossroads, it has excellent connections to Warsaw and Lvov. However, you would not stumble across it through geographical knowledge, neither from a physical or a spiritual perspective.

Scribes, artisans, and businesspeople avoid going there, almost on purpose. There is nobody on the road… It is not worth it… Even a cheap, picayune operetta would earn failure here.

It simply does not matter to Dubnoites. The only movie theater in the city is full of inferiority. The villagers of the area and people of the nearby towns do not come to the city other than for administrative affairs – for it is a district city after all. In essence, however, they obtain their provisions from other cities. Dubno has no attractive force even for the lads who have become spoiled and have turned to Haskalah. Here, there is no room for a Nachshon-style leap[4]

[Columns 359-360]

When Dubno is busy with communal affairs, activism – Heaven help us – it is centered around dispute. The actual cause of the dispute: the camp of the “elder” rabbi, and the followers of the “young”rabbi… However, do not fear! This is a dispute without fire, without cutting of peyos, and without slaps on the cheek, Heaven forbid. This is nothing more than ordinary talk of those who sit at the corners, the idlers of the city, Jews of the cane[5], who sit on the street all day. They even play football in Dubno without excitement, just like that, people do as they were taught…

Signs of past greatness can be found in the cemetery. There, the Torah giants, the cedars of Lebanon, the renowned amount the scholars are buried. Incidentally, there is a monograph called The City of Dubno and its Rabbis by Rabbi Margolis, which deals with the rich past. Throughout his life, this Last Mohawk collected an interesting and rare library regarding the city and its rabbis, which he dedicated to the studying youth. In our days it found its purpose – in a horse stable, where it is rotting, and pages are falling out…

Indeed so it is: the rich cemetery is full of “life,” and the living street is impoverished and dead. Upon this grey background I will etch some “arabesque” of a few representations of the “face” of the place. The image of Dubno will then be complete in the eyes of the reader.

The intelligentsia, with the definite article. A former student who earned great popularity. His first name, in the form of love and modesty, is known to everybody, from the water drawer up to the rabbi of the city. He was the scion of a good family. He was occupied in communal affairs, a civic advisor, a journalist, and a jurist from Petersburg. He was once chosen – when the first light breeze of freedom blew – as the president of the city. He was a dear person to the city. He promised mountains and hills. As times changed, he built a family nest. He abandoned spiritual and theoretical pursuits - as well as work for the public benefit. He abandoned his bookshelf: comic books bound together with volumes of Dubnow[6], Sefer Ha'agada[7] – with a catalog of wines and liquor. Suddenly, his taste dissipated, and nothing mattered to him anymore, neither the city or the community, not the communal council or the city council. It was extinguished like a Sabbath candle. Its form was removed like a beaten Hoshana[8]. His entire spiritual burden – a page of the daily newspaper and ruminating over old jokes…

The doctor was liked by people. He performed wonders in the heavens and on earth. He worked in the science of “medicine” and his work was honest. He was prepared to run to any call, day and night, even for the poorest of the poor – as long as he would be “honored.” He was miserly, and he secured his money with real estate.

The pharmacist was an old bachelor. He was fat due to much sleep and little walking. He smiled from satiety from one end of his mustache to the other. He could prove to you two times over that it is not worthwhile to marry a woman… Every Sabbath, a group of youths would gather in his pharmacy to light a cigarette, and to smoke it while absorbing juicy jokes.

The maskil was a remnant from previous eras. He used to serve[9] A. B. Gotlober[10]. He breached the wall himself: from the Beis Midrash to Europe. He learned foreign languages without the help of teachers. He was full and overflowing. He lived in isolation, and spent time only with his books.

He was bored and boring with the Dubno freeze. Every new book turned into something archival in his hand. The city hall office, his writing table, and his books – this was his entire world. To hell with the rest!…

The leftist Yiddishist. Previously, he was a student in a black shirt, destined to overturn the world and what is therein. He raised a ruckus and gathered a crowd. He saw the aim in life in pedagogy. He worked in a children's home. Today he is a merchant and seller with all the badges. He is in the synagogue on Sabbaths and festivals. He is a fine young man, bringing contentment to his parents. However, it is also forbidden to overlook: He still feels faithful to his ideal – he avidly reads the Folks-Zeitung – as a Hassidic Jew, between mincha and maariv.

These are characters from the gallery – may G-d have mercy.

I am sad in your midst – o Dubno.

A song will not be sung about you. Your stories will not be told. It is not for naught that those near and far said about you: Dubno and its mourners…


Translator's Footnotes
  1. There is a footnote in the text here, as follows: From Volhyner Lebn, issues 7-8, October 1924. The writer is a journalist who visited the city during the 1920s, after the First World War and the change of regime. He found it destroyed and desolate. This article is the fruits of his impression – the editors. Return
  2. I.e. neutral – a euphemism here for lifelessness. Return
  3. I.e. mundane, secular affairs. Return
  4. Referring to the Midrash that at the time of the crossing of the Red Sea, the sea did not split until Nachshon the son of Aminadab jumped into the water. Return
  5. Seemingly referring to older people who are no longer employed. The Yiddish is shtelklech-Yiden. Return
  6. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simon_Dubnow, as well as column 313 of this book. Return
  7. The Book of Legends by Ch. N. Bialik. Return
  8. Referring to the willow branches beaten on the ground on Hoshana Rabba. Return
  9. The phrase used for “to serve” is “to pour water on the hands of.” Return
  10. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avrom_Ber_Gotlober Return


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