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Personalities and Figures

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A Portrait of the Head of the Rabbinical Court, the Gaon,
Our Teacher and Rabbi, Rabbi Menachem Mendel

by Ya.N.A.Y.

Translated by Aryeh Sklar

Translator's comment: Parenthetical text is from the original, while bracketed text is explanatory or otherwise comments from the translator

The Gaon [genius] Rabbi Menachem Mendel (Reb Mendele) was born to his father, the Gaon Rabbi David Zvi Auerbach, the head of the rabbinical court and rabbi in Dubno, in the year 5636 [1876],[1] and he merited to preside as a rabbi in the city of his fathers for about 50 years, spreading Torah and fear of God there until his last day. When he was young, when he lived in Berditchev with his wife, Reb Mendele would attend the court of the Admor [an honorific meaning Our Master, Our Teacher, and Our Rabbi] of Skver. When the righteous man passed away, Reb Mendele switched to the camp of the [anti–hasidic] Misnagdim, and remained a staunch misnagid until the end of his life.

Reb Mendele took on the last name “Rosenfeld” for the purposes of exemption from the Russian army, while his original family name was Auerbach, a hint to being a distant descendant of Rashi [the acronym of Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki, a famous 11th century rabbi]. The legend goes that when Rashi's mother was pregnant with him, she was in Troyes [France] and encountered a narrow alleyway. At that very moment, a knight passed her riding his armored steed. There was nowhere for the pregnant woman to run, placing her in grave danger. A miracle occurred, and the stones of the wall she had flattened herself against squeezed together and sunk back, like a niche, which fit her and her pregnant belly, and she emerged unharmed from that dangerous place. Therefore, her descendants were called in German “Auerbach”, or “Avir–Boych”, meaning “a belly filled with air.”

Reb Mendele was involved in business as a young man, because he did not wish to make his Torah his livelihood [lit. “a spade with which to dig”]. After that, he was taken for the honor of being head of the rabbinical court in Rozyszcze, near Lutzk, and he sat in the rabbinical seat until the year 5644 [1884]. That same year he took the seat of the rabbinate in the city of his fathers, even while opposed by the Hasidim, among whom there were many from the Kotzk sect of Hasidut.

During World War I, Reb Mendele left Dubno, which was occupied at one time by Russia, and at another time by Austria, and he went to Zitomir, and from there to Lishinov. In the year 5676 (1916), when Dubno was occupied again by the Russians, a delegation of important individuals came out to Reb Mendele and requested of him on behalf of the residents of the city to come back to them. He accepted the request, and from then on he continued to lead his people with integrity and justice, without favoring any man, as the commandment [Exodus 23:3] “And you shall not show deference to a poor man in his dispute.” He had [Psalms 24:4] “clean hands and a pure heart,” a Torah scholar, [cf. Talmud Berakhot 28a] “the same inside and out”, in his appearance as well, polished and clean from head to toe, from his black boots to his knitted gloves on his hands, a fast walker and

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quick to perceive, he lent an attentive ear to anyone who spoke to him about their worries and troubles, granting his counsel to anyone who came to him to ask for it. His reputation preceded him beyond Dubno, to all the surrounding areas, near and far (that of Volhynia), and throughout the rabbinic circles of all of Poland.

As a misnagid, Reb Mendele was continuing in the position of most of the rabbis of the city, since the days of the Gra [the “Vilna Gaon”, Rabbi Elijah of Vilna]. He would jokingly say that he hopes that after 120 years, he will merit to stand in Heaven at the time they are administering lashes to the Hasidic followers and their rabbis.

Authority was granted to Reb Mendele to its fullest extent according to his honor, even by the residents of the city who were not among the [Jewish] covenant. Before World War I, the rabbi was appointed as the rabbinical chaplain of the army, and he did much to ease the situation for the Jewish soldiers in the army. During the war, the rabbi turned to the military authorities and urged them to supply kosher meat to the Jewish soldiers encamped in the city. He [apparently] knew how to convince the heads of the military, for even during the war, the Jewish soldiers were able to observe all their religious customs. The power of his personality and his sincerity made him successful, and his influence continued to grow.

A story happened that a certain butcher had a rumor going around about him that he was feeding the people of the city meat from animals that were not kosher [nevelot and terefot]. Reb Mendele summoned him and warned him, under the principle that [Talmud Makkot 5b] “we do not punish without warning.” The butcher promised to be more careful from then on, but he was careful for a time until he went back to his old ways. The rabbi summoned him again and berated him, to which the butcher claimed that nothing happened. The rabbi sought counsel with the leaders of the community, and he decided to bring the butcher before the community to take a Torah–backed oath. This oath was arranged as per custom in the study house [Bet Midrash], taking place before black candles, with the specific oaths herem and konam [mentioned in the Kol Nidrei prayer of Yom Kippur]. When the butcher arose to take the oath, he had a stroke and died on the spot. From then on, the rabbi prohibited any Jew from taking such a vow.

The elders of our city tell another tale: A story once happened with Reb Altar, who lived neighboring the city bathhouse. One day, it was decided to install a fence around the mikvah [an immersion pool for purity], and they erred and the fence encroached the property of Reb Altar. His wife burst out in a raging fury against those doing the work, even trying to destroy the fence. One of the neighbors ran to the rabbi and summoned him quickly to the site. The rabbi was furious with Reb Altar's wife and reproved her for what happened.

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She declared to the rabbi, “I don't care if they are building a mikvah, I did not give permission for them to put a fence on our property!” The rabbi responded, “Sarah, you must desist! You will not have need for this land…” It was understood as a warning, and indeed, a week passed and the woman died.

The High Holidays were memorable to the people of Dubno, when Reb Mendele would astound with his blowing the shofar, his many blasts on Rosh Hashana, and the elongated blast [tekia gedola] at the conclusion of the final prayer of Yom Kippur, Neilah, which is meant to confuse the Satan… His rendition of the prayer “From the Straits,” would make the very doorposts quake, and fear and trembling would grip the praying congregation. It was felt that this prayer broke through the Heavens and reached the very Throne of Glory.

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They say about Reb Mendele that he never got sick his entire life, standing tall and strong to his last days. He would wake up around 4am to greet the morning, and he would sit and study the Talmud and the Jewish law decisions of rabbis [poskim] until it was time for prayer. Whether summer or winter, even those cold wintry nights, he would travel the long distance of 5 parasangs[2] to the slaughterhouse, checking the kosher status of both small and large animals himself. He lived a long life, and died at the ripe old age of 97, in the year 5693 (1933).

During the war, when an order went out that every resident had to carry identification documents, a photographer came to Reb Mendele and took his picture [surreptitiously]. When Reb Mendele found out, he ran to the photographer, and ripped the negative to shreds. And so, the brilliant face of Reb Mendele is left etched only upon the memories of his townspeople, and his generation.

 

Translator's Footnotes
  1. Based on when he died, this should say 5596 [1836] Return
  2. An ancient Persian measurement of distance equal to about 3.5 miles. Accordingly, he would travel 17.5 miles each way Return


Our Master, Our Teacher, Our Rabbi [Admor],
R. Baruch HaLevi Yozefob

by R. Shmuel HaLevi Yozefob

Translated by Aryeh Sklar

 

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My father, my master, of blessed memory, settled in Dubno in the year 5653 (1893), and was appointed Rebbe [Hasidic leader] by the invitation of his father's Hasidic followers, the Admor Rabbi Yechiel Michel of Koritz, of blessed memory, who had lived there. Most of the residents of Dubno were staunch Misnagdim, who opposed the approach of Hasidism completely, and when my father came to Dubno, the Misnagdim persecuted him at first. But, in his great humility, he never said a bad word about them – just the opposite, he showed them signs of love and friendship, so much so that it wasn't long before they all became his admirers, holding him in high esteem and supporting him with generosity, so much so that he was finally able to build a house for himself and even a beautiful study house [Bet Midrash]. His great love of Jews did that.

My father, of blessed memory, told me a story from his holy grandfather, Reb Aharon of Chernobyl, of blessed memory, that when he first came to Dubno, great rabbis came to visit him – Rabbi Tzvi HaKohen Rappaport (the author of “Ezras Kohanim”), Rabbi Shmuel Birnbaum (the son–in–law of the great genius Rabbi Akiva Eiger), and Rabbi Yitzchak Eliyahu, a preacher of homilies who was well–known in Volhynia. When they left his house, the righteous Reb Aharon said to his Hasidic followers that Rabbi Tzvi HaKohen Rappaport was sincere in his greetings, while the others were sarcastic, and he nevertheless loves them because of their greatness in Torah study. They deserve no guilt, however, for their opposition, for the ways of Hasidut are foreign to them.

My father, of blessed memory, told me another story that on the holy Sabbath, the righteous Reb Aharon would go pray in the Great Synagogue, and with him his Hasidic followers, as was his custom. The mara de'asra [lit. “master of the place,” i.e. “rabbi of the synagogue”] was at that time the great Rabbi David Tzvi,

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author of the “Malbushei Taharah.” The righteous Reb Aharon led the congregation in prayer, and when he reached the prayer of [the beginning of the evening prayer], “Borkhu,” the rabbi of the synagogue sent the sexton to warn him that he should not say [the introductory prayer of] “Kegavna” [which, among Ashkenazim, is only said by the Hasidic sects]. The righteous man turned to the rabbi and said, “Yes, I heard from the mara de'asra [master of the place] not to say Kegavna, but what can I do, when I've heard from the mara de'alma [Master of the world] that I indeed should say Kegavna, and so the [Talmud's] rule applies of “A command of the teacher and the command of the student, who does one listen to? [The teacher's, obviously].” The rabbi accepted the righteous man's words, and allowed him to continue praying according to his custom.

After that, others began to visit Dubno: both the righteous Maggid [preacher] of Trisk, and the righteous man from Olisk, and the Hasidic approach became accepted and spread, until three prayer–houses were established: the “kloyz” [small house] of the Hasidim of Trisk, the “shtiebel” [small prayer–house] of Stolin, and the “kloyz” of general Hasidim.

My father passed away in Dubno at the age of 68, on the anniversary of the death of his ancestor the holy Admor Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heschel of Apt, author of “Ohev Yisrael,” the 5th of Nissan, 5697 [March 17, 1937]. Before his death, the rabbi of Apt commanded that they should not write any praises on his tombstone, except for the words “Ohev Yisrael” [“Lover of Israel”], an attribute he could boast to the Heavenly Court. So did my father, my teacher, of blessed memory, inherit from his ancestor this great attribute of love of the Jewish people and through the power of this love he could reach the opposition.


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The Crown Rabbi[1] – Rabbi Chaim Zev Margolios

Translated by Aryeh Sklar

Rabbi Chaim Zev Margolios was born in Vilna ca. 5602 (1842). Most of his Torah study curriculum of Talmud with the commentaries of Rashi and Tosafot, he learned from his uncle, Yaakov Brita. At 18, he left Vilna to complete his studies abroad, traveling by foot for many days through German territories, Austria and Hungary. In his return from abroad, he entered the rabbinical seminary on behalf of the Russian government, which was in Zitomir, finishing his requirements in the year 1870. For seven years he served as a Jewish law authority in various cities in the Volhynia region, until the government schools were closed by the authorities in 1877. The next year, in 1878, he was chosen to serve as the rabbi on behalf of the Dubno leaders, and served in this role for certain intervals from 1878 until 1911.

While still a student of the study–house, he began contributing articles to the journal “HaMelitz”, under the pseudonym “Chazos” (“Ch” and “Z” being the acronym of “Chaim Zev”, and “os” the end of “Margolios”). In the year 1872, he published the educational book “History of the Jewish People” in the Russian language, which was well–received by many schools.

Of great interest is “Memories of Days Gone By” [“Zichronot Meyamim Avru”], which appeared in Hebrew in the year 1895, which has reliable descriptions of the lives of the hedonistic “Borsaki”, who were students in the study houses of the rabbinical seminaries of Zotimir. Another of his books, “Stories and Descriptions” [“Sippurim ve'Tziyurim”] (Warsaw, 1905), which appeared in Hebrew, includes many interesting facts, even if from an artistic perspective they are of poor quality. His best story appeared in “The Morning Light” [“HaBoker Or”] (January 1881), named “The Sinner's Sin?” [“HaChet Cheto”].

Rabbi Chaim Zev Margolios made a lasting memorial to Dubno, where he served, by collecting very important compositions in the notebook “Dubno Rabbati,” regarding the fate of the community and its position, which was published first in the newspaper “The Morning Light” in 1876, page 313; in “Hamelitz” in 1893, nos. 9, 34, 51, 83, 119, 133; and in “Hatzefira” in 1902, nos. 7–11, and then in the book “Dubno Rabbati” (Warsaw 1910), which got him an award from the organization “Disseminators of the Enlightenment” [“Mafitzei Haskala”]. His book is used as an important source for the history of the Jews of Poland and the provinces.

– The Russian Jewish Encyclopedia[2], vol. 10, pp. 622–623

S. Stanislavsky

 

Translator's Footnotes
  1. This was a position in the Russian empire given to Jewish people who acted as intermediaries between the Jewish towns and the government Return
  2. A work published in Russia spanning 16 volumes between 1906–1913, written in Russian, on Judaism past and present. This entry was translated to Hebrew for this Yizkor book, and translated from the Hebrew to English here Return


A Portrait of the Teacher Chaim–Nissan Zaks

by Naftali Toran

Translated by Aryeh Sklar

I was 8 and a half when my mother, may she rest in tranquility, brought the “young man”, Chaim–Nissan, from Alexandria in the area of Volhynia to Klevan, my hometown, to be my teacher and educator. This is what happened:

My mother, a wise woman of good taste, traveled to Alexandria to learn about the character of Elimelech Bly, who was suggested as a suitor for my sister, Chaya–Fayga. There she took notice of a young man dressed in tattered clothes, but with a serious look in his eyes, who was coming and going from Elimelech's house and was friendly with him. The young man piqued her interest, and she began to inquire after his situation. She was told that he was from her city, in the area of Herstadt (Volhynia), and he came to Alexandria because of the Enlightenment. Why Alexandria? He became enchanted by the library opened in Alexandria by the organization in Russia called “Disseminators of the Enlightenment” [“Mafitzei Haskalah”], which gathered around it young men who longed for the light and enlightenment of general studies and Hebrew, and they would barely scrape by through teaching the Bible and Talmud. My mother, seeking

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to find to find a proper tutor for the son of her old age, began speaking to Chaim–Nissan, and offered for him to move to Klevan with the following conditions: He should teach only four students, his wages would be 100 rubles for each semester [“zeman”], he would get food from the tables of his students' parents, six weeks by each one. 100 rubles was the right wage for a teacher of children, and Chaim–Nissan accepted the offer, and he moved the Klevan during the High Holidays season of 5649 (1889).

I remember when I first met with him. He would be in the synagogue for the tailors, which was next to the Great Synagogue, in the afternoon hours. No other man was there at that time. I was small and thin, and he picked me up in his arms and positioned me on the bench. I noticed how pale his face was, his cheeks smooth with no hint of beard, his posture slightly bent. He asked me questions from the Torah and the Prophets, and my answers seemed to satisfy him, for his face appeared to shine, and every so often he would say, “Good, good.” I was his first student, but my mother stood by her word and worked to provide him with three more students to join me, and after the holiday of Sukkot, we began to study.

Chaim–Nissan lacked formal pedagogical training, but he was blessed with natural pedagogical abilities. We would study from 8am until 8pm

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with an hour and a half break for lunch. He would teach the Prophets with a passion, and with a melody that would penetrate the heart, explaining the words in Yiddish which was fluent in our mouths. On Sabbaths we would come to him to listen to him telling stories from history books, especially stories about the Spanish Inquisition and the Auto–da–fé in Portugal, which made a lasting impression on us. We were drawn to him, and we were treated with much affection, even though he would sometimes flog us for our misbehavior.

My heart recalls a day in winter. Between the afternoon and evening prayers, we, the children, decided to run to the river near our town and skate on the ice, not with ice skates, God forbid, like those “shkatzim”, the uncouth teens of the village, but with our shoes on our feet. Everything was going well, we were enjoying ourselves, and no adult knew. The next day we did it again, and again everything went well; seeing this, we continued to run to the river every day and skate on the ice – that is, until Chaim–Nissan found out and punished us harshly for our mischief. Such a thing was considered a sin by parents and teachers in those days, a sin worthy of punishment, for Jewish children were not supposed to imitate the “goyim”.

That same winter, my mother died and left me an orphan, yet my education was never interrupted. Chaim–Nissan continued to teach us a fondness for reading Hebrew literature, and opening up our imagination through the written word.

Over time, youths who were fans of the Enlightenment would gather around Chaim–Nissan, and a club was organized which would meet every so often to debate various issues which were raised by articles published in “Hamelitz” regarding the “Love of Zion” (Chibat Zion) [movement]. Certain extremists would talk about the youths, especially the “young man” – i.e., Chaim–Nissan – calling him the incarnation of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, a sinner who leads the public to sin. These extremists also sought to incite simple Hasidim regarding the followers of the Enlightenment (Maskilim), but the inciters did so in vain. Klevan was already a progressive city, close to Rubana, a city in the province which had a mighty influence on it. But, of course, there must be fights and struggles, and from that breach [in religious isolationism], many new things followed.

During that time, we learned the Wisdom of Ben Sira in the translation of Yitzchak Frankel, and since we only had one book, we copied the chapters into our notebooks. It once happened that the sexton of the study house, while it was used by the Hasidim of Stefan (which was used by them every so often), saw what we were studying in our notebooks. He raised an alarm that we were learning heretical texts, and it aroused great agitation against the Maskilim in general, and Chaim–Nissan specifically. The main sexton of this study house, [a man] to whom the young Maskilim would sometimes gather, was a powerful Jew, and he would lobby the local authority, who greatly benefited from his lobbying efforts, and he began to move heaven and earth about this impurity that had invaded the study house. We youths knew how to wage a war in return, and we took revenge in various ways. Once on a Friday, about an hour before the start of the Sabbath, a time when the study house was completely empty of any people, I went in and wrote in ink on the wall across from the sexton's seat, “Hello thief, hello slanderer.” When people came to the study house, they saw the writing, and they mocked the seat of the man whom they hated. That writing stayed where it was until Saturday night, and it perturbed the sexton that entire day. Another time, one of the children cut the corner of one of the extremists' fur coat. Such pranks, among other things we did, caused a fight of words to become a fight of fists.

It was the last days of the holiday of Sukkot [Shemini Atzeret], 5650 [1889]. After the party arranged for the election of the new sextons of the synagogue, when certain people of the extremists were drinking, they began to hurl invectives against the Maskilim, even pouncing upon them with punches as well. The Maskilim and their adherents didn't hide their fists in their pockets, and they returned the punches measure for measure. After that, the struggle [between the Maskilim and the extremists] began to abate, until it died out completely.

The third year of Chaim–Nissan's stay in Klevan, he got married to a woman from Berezne of Volhynia, and she had several children. The first–born son was Shmerel (Shmaryahu), who lived his adult life in the United States, and he struggled mightily to make a living.

I studied under Chaim–Nissan until I turned 12 years old. I went through almost all of the Hebrew Bible, and I knew a chapter of Talmud as well.

When I became an adult, I decided I would dedicate myself to teaching Hebrew. I was 18 when I returned to Alexandria and began giving private classes, and an idea grew in me to open a Hebrew school. I rented an apartment on the main street of the city, I ordered benches, chalkboards, and all such teaching tools, and we – my brother–in–law Elimelech Bly and I – invited my teacher of my past, Chaim–Nissan, to be the head teacher, as the principle of the school. The other two teachers would be my brother–in–law, and me. By command of the government, we had to teach the Russian language and Russian history, and as such we hired a graduate of the teacher's school in Vilna.

The school got a good reputation, but could not afford 4 teachers. I therefore left, and moved to Zdolbuniv and made money there with tutoring jobs, while Chaim–Nissan and my brother–in–law Elimelech continued their work in Alexandria, until they moved after some time to Dubno, from the invitation of the Zionists there.

I know nothing regarding his life in Dubno, the years of WWI he spent in Uman, in the province of Kiev, and the end of his life in America. But, according to my brother–in–law, who would write him letters, I found out that Chaim–Nissan had a hard time scraping by in his rabbinical position in helping those who left Klevan and Dubno. Almost 8 years passed – the year 5710 [1949] – he sent money to my brother–in–law for him to publish his stories and legends that had been published in Blossoms [Perachim] by Y. H. Brenner, and in Life and Nature [HaChaim veHaTeva] by Y. H. Tevyov, and his latest stories he had published in the weekly made in Warsaw, edited by Ben–Eliezer.

Chaim–Nissan had a tremendous impact in the field of Hebrew education, influencing many students to continue his great and prolific work.

 

B.

Chaim–Nissan, as a teacher of Scripture and of Hebrew grammar, disseminated Torah at the beginning of the 20th century together with the educator Elimelech Bly. He had arrived in Dubno from Klevan with his family. A young man with vigor, he tried his hand at being a business partner in a factory that made seltzer, but “he left with his hands on his head” [it was unsuccessful], and so he went back to teaching. A group of eight students was assembled by him. This was the era of the “heder metukan”, the start to a Hebrew revival for young students in schools. The main studies were Bible, grammar, the Ever language (that is what they called Hebrew, Ivrit, back then, which was taught in an Ashkenazi–Lithuanian accent), and a bit of Talmud. They explained the Bible in Yiddish, which was the spoken language of the children and parents, who wanted to ensure they would understand the verse in its most literal sense, without a care for the Talmudic dictum, (b. Kiddushin 49a) “One who translated a verse in its literal sense is a liar.” In addition, Chaim–Nissan taught his students to write well, and paid very close attention to this [particular subject]. His influence on his students was quite great, even despite the fact that he did not spare the rod, and sometimes at a very harsh level. He demanded they learn and behave to his standards, like good Jewish children.

His teacher's wages were not minor at all, compared to the times. He demanded, and received, 24 rubles for “time”!

The great assistance to his work came from his full–bodied wife Bayla. She was in charge of two of his books: “The Golden Book”, and “The Black Book.” From the outside, these books were indistinguishable; that is how they called them from the start. It once happened that Shaul'ik, a sharp–witted youth with an amazing power of recall, had heard that a fire had broken out in the city – so he stopped his studies and ran after the firefighters. Shaul'ik was all of 11 years old then. But was it possible that a youth like him would run like a barbarian [shkutz] in the streets of the city, bringing shame to his teacher Chaim–Nissan and his school?! After he did that, he deserved to be put in “The Black Book”, which Bayla took out, and in front of everyone, recorded Shaul'ik's name that he had done wrong. To no avail was his pleading and sobbing from the fear that the “otmetka” (Russian for “mark”) meant he would certainly turn out evil – where would he go?

After a few days, Chaim–Nissan began to show an equanimity toward the lad. He would ignore his transgression if Shaul'ik would promise that he will learn the entirety of the book of Proverbs by heart.

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Shaul'ik didn't recoil from such a big task, and as long as his name would be erased from his book of Hell… How great was his joy, when he began to recite Proverbs by heart in its original language before Chaim–Nissan, surely getting much satisfaction from this.

Chaim–Nissan's custom was to go out to his yard at sunset and chop wood himself for the fireplace and for the stove, and afterward sit at the table and slice a loaf of bread, dip it in oil, and enjoy it. “It's healthy,” he would say.

Over the course of time, Chaim–Nissan became a well–respected individual, who took care of our fair–haired and freckled sons and daughters. He lived in an apartment that was always open, and drawn to him were the city's Zionists and anyone who loved Enlightenment and culture. One recalls the hours in the afternoon of the Sabbath and Festivals in the house of the teacher who everyone treated with love and friendship: the windows are open, its pleasant smells sweet to the outside, cups of hot drinks on the table, and Chaim–Nissan beaming with three light–shaded beards (that's how his beard grew, with three hills), sitting and going round and round with the children's stories that he had published, most of them hanging on some strange verse from the early prophets, their content filled with ethical principles, their style light yet heartening.

From the whole of the Enlightenment, Chaim–Nissan only took in a bit, and he wrestled with proper Russian grammar all his days. He didn't feel especially connected to Russian, even when teaching his students in the gymnasium. He found fulfillment his whole life in the Hebrew language, and in Zionism. His stamp was on all the literature of the day: “Small World” [Olam Katan], the books “Rescue” [Toshia], “The Book of Legends” [Sefer HaAgada] by Bialik, “HaShiloach”, “The Young Worker” [HaPoel HaTzeir], and more.

Chaim–Nissan created a generation of admirers of Hebrew, overflowing from his spirit and his faith to the Zionism of most of the inhabitants of the city. He left Dubno before the breakout of the first World War, and immigrated to America. He served there in the rabbinate, where he passed away at an old age.


The Lot of the Hebrew Teacher

by Nissan Machruk (Drori)

Translated by Aryeh Sklar

 

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My father, of blessed memory, Rabbi David–Eliezer, was born in Lutzk in 1874. From the dawn of his childhood, he showed a great connection to his studies and to a love of books,

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though there was not much in the way of financial abundance in his house [growing up], and his older brothers immigrated overseas. My father left his house at a tender age, turning to Volozhin, the hub of Torah. He did not spend a full week at Volozhin, but those few days of his stay made a deep impression that carried all his days afterward. There, he “glanced and was damaged” – he glanced at the way of life of the young men of the Yeshiva, and was swept off by the stream of Enlightenment which was very intense in those days.

His second stay was at the Lomza yeshiva, where he studied for a number of years, though even with his deep and overall knowledge of Talmud with its commentaries of Rashi and the Tosafists, he did not wish to turn toward the rabbinate, rather putting his talents to the research of the Hebrew language and education. In 1896, he raised his family in Dubno, where he worked as a teacher for the remainder of his life.

Some years before WWI, my father founded a Jewish Enlightenment school [“heder metukan”] in his house, where his students learned Hebrew language in a Lithuanian accent. “Love of Zion” [Ahavat Zion] and “The Guilt of Samaria” [Ashmat Shomron] were the tools used for the deepening of his students' love of Zionism, and every letter in Hebrew published, every pamphlet, every newspaper, and every book that came to press in those days found its place in his library. Thus, his house turned into a meeting place of the admirers of Zion, a hub where everyone gravitated. The poet Yitzhak Lamdan, of blessed memory, also spent some time as a student of my father.

The chaos of war and the October Revolution changed many aspects of the life of the Jews of Dubno and its education.

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In the year 1918, he founded a large school in the city according to the Zeitgeist. The studies were conducted in Yiddish, since it wasn't possible to maintain an all–Hebrew school. A war of life and death was waging between the Hebraists [on one side] and the Bund–Yevsektsiya [Jewish branch of the Bolshevik communist party] movements, who sought to completely uproot the teaching of the Hebrew language [on the other]. In this war, my father fought valiantly, even forgetting himself and the need to make a living. Many anti–Zionists and anti–Hebrew could not stand up against his ferocity, their old teacher from the past, but there were those who knew no shame, and would use any means that would help them in the war against Zionism and Hebrew. Among them was one individual, Kekhtzer was his name, a staunch Bundist, who didn't hesitate from informing on him to higher authorities, like Prusvita, the council of culture, in Kiev. My father stood strong against the waves, fighting and succeeding. He was given permission to teach 18 hours of

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Hebrew religion in the school, as well as in the Farber–Zebramya school. This continued to be until new winds came which were more liberal, with a change in the officers of the city and its surrounding neighborhoods.

In the '20s and '30s, my father taught hundreds of students, whom he guided and educated in the youth movement and immigration to Israel [aliya]. It is appropriate to note that while it is true that the students of other teachers were well–off children, educated in the Polish gymnasium, my father's students were, for the most part, from poor families. Indeed, he found a special meaning in their attachment to his group sessions specifically regarding Hebrew culture and teaching them a love for Zion.

Family tragedies crushed his spirit in the twilight of his life, and his sorrow went with his only daughter to a mass grave in the days of Nazi terror.

All his life, my father longed for the land of his forefathers, which he never merited to fulfill.

 

Dub382.jpg
Community workers of KEPA (the Russian Disseminators of Enlightnment group [Mafitzei Haskala]) in Dubno with students
From right to left: Gitnacht, Goldis, Roitman, B. Cohen, Dr. Hindas, A. Wertheim, Y. Pinchasovich, and teacher D. Machruk

 

[Column 383]

Rabbi Elimelech Blei, Teacher

by Ya.N.A.Y.

Translated by Aryeh Sklar

Translator's comment: Parenthetical text is from the original, while bracketed text is explanatory or otherwise comments from the translator

 

Dub383.jpg

 

The elder of the educators of Dubno, Rabbi Elimelech Blei, was born in the year 5630 (1870) in Rivne, Volhynia. Some time afterward, his parents moved to Alexandria, where little Elimelech spent his childhood years. He received a traditional education, and when he reached bar–mitzvah age, he went to yeshiva, molded by a rabbi outstanding in Torah knowledge and fear of heaven, Rabbi Moshe Rosenbaum. Until the age of 18, he studied Torah for the sake of Torah, without a thought of a practical purpose [tachlis], and without learning a trade from which to make a living. Then, [at 18,] his parents made him a match [shidduch] with a woman the same age, Chaya–Fayga Zigelbaum of Klevan, who was his perfect partner until the end of his life. [As the Talmud Kiddushin 31a states:] “Can a man have a millstone

[Column 384]

on his neck [i.e., the responsibility to provide food for his family] and study Torah?” – Elimelech tried his hand at business without seeing success, and so he left it aside and turned to education.

In 5658 (1898), Elimelech was invited by the head of the Jewish court, the gaon Rabbi Mordechai Mottel Sternberg, and the Crown Rabbi Bernstein, to teach in the “Cheder Metukan” [school for Enlightenment–movement children] of the Alexandria community. After 6 years, in 5664 (1904), he moved with his family to Dubno, where he founded a school on the principle of “Hebrew taught in Hebrew” [ivrit b'ivrit] together with the esteemed teacher Chaim–Nissan Zaks. Elimelech and Chaim–Nissan were like a single unit, working tirelessly to educate students to bear the banner of revival and love of the Hebrew language just like them. The youths of the city adapted themselves to Hebrew as a living language, and their ears held fast to the words of the Torah.

Elimelech and Chaim–Nissan did not shun the work of Zionism and [revival of] the Hebrew language; they did not rely on others to do it; they did not abandon it. They worked on the Odessa Committee,[1] disseminators of Hebrew poetry and literature, collecting members for “HaShiloach”, distributing financial assistance in the Land of Israel, choosing representatives for the Zionist conference in Volhynia (which at the time was done in secret out of fear of the Czarist authorities viewing it negatively), corresponding with Jewish leaders – simultaneously. Anything that had a hint of Zionism or Hebrew, Elimelech devoted himself toward it, and acted on its behalf out of the joy of doing a holy deed. I remember the letters and the postcards which Elimelech would write with holy trembling to the expert teacher Rabbi Yishai Adler in Jaffa. These letters were written in carefully beautiful handwriting, with not even a comma out of place (God–forbid). And all this activity was obviously not for him to get some reward from it; just the opposite – he worked to the core to help establish things properly.

Elimelech yearned in his soul to immigrate to the Land of Israel and to invest in it. In the year 5674 (1914), he began to take steps toward realizing this longing, turning to Dr. Joseph Klausner[2] to get his advice. In a response dated the eve of Passover, 5674 [1914), Dr. Klausner wrote to him:

My honored master Rabbi Elimelech Blei,

This disease is terrible, this typhoid, which I have contracted this winter, and so I have delayed in responding to you until now, and I ask for your forgiveness. Whether there is a position in the Land of Israel of “Teacher's Assistant,” and whether they would give you this position, can only be ascertained in the “place where it is practical.” One must be in the Land of Israel and have proper diligence in this. From afar,

[Column 385]

one cannot come to a conclusion about this matter at all. If you get the opportunity to travel to the Land of Israel for three months out of the year, to try this out, I will assist you in writing letters of recommendation. That is all I can do. Let me know what your daughters are writing to you.

With blessings of peace and joy of the festival, and with the blessings of Zion,

Dr. Joseph Klausner

He made several preparations connected to immigrating to the Land, and then the first World War broke out. Chaim–Nissan managed to immigrate to the United States before this, while Elimelech Blei stayed. Dubno suffered many days of war and parts of it were consumed by fire. In the year 1918, the city was liberated from the Austrians, and Elimelech returned as the head of the “Tarbut” [lit. “culture”] school. In the year 1919–1920, he became the head of a school that was a mix of Yiddish and Hebrew founded through the Joint Committee. In the ‘20s, with the opening of the Jewish–Polish gymnasium by Kremerman, Elimelech was invited to teach Jewish studies under the auspices of the Volhynia municipality. So it continued until 1934, the year of his immigration [to Israel].

Here [in Israel], Elimelech was invited by the municipal Department of Education to teach Hebrew in night classes, as well as to take care of the office work for the classes. He continued to teach until the age of 76, and from then until the age of 80, he worked only in the office. At that point, he retired.

Elimelech also worked in publishing, mainly on children's books. His own writings were published in “BaDerech” in Warsaw, and in the Israeli publications “Davar”, “Amar”, and “Anthologies of Volhynia [Yalkut Volhin]”.

Elimelech passed away at the ripe old age of 86 in Tel Aviv, 27 Iyyar [May 8th], 5716 (1956). His wife had died before him, also in Tel Aviv, in Elul [September] 5711 (1951).


Translator's footnotes:
  1. A Russian–Jewish organization supporting immigration to the Land of Israel from 1890–1913. –tc Return
  2. A Jewish historian and professor of Hebrew Literature. He knew Theodore Herzl personally, and was involved in the Zionist movement, attending the first Zionist congress as well. –tc Return


[Column 386]

The Life of Hebrew Teacher Shlomo Balaban

by Asher Balaban

Translated by Aryeh Sklar

My father was born in Skver in the province of Kiev in the year 1889 to the family of the town's cantor [chazan]. He was a talented boy and excelled in his studies. He had a beautiful voice, an alto voice, and from the age of 7, he would assist his grandfather in his job as cantor for the Days of Awe. At that age of 7 he was already studying the Talmud with great diligence, and when he turned 11, his tutor sent him to the High Yeshiva [“yeshiva gedola”] in Kishinev, where the students were guaranteed room and board, so they wouldn't have to rely on “eating days” at local houses. [1]

To his great misfortune, he did not find a vacancy in this great house of Torah, leaving this lad of 11 years alone and penniless, without enough even for one meal, in a foreign city. He decided to turn to the study house, and who would happen to be there but one man from Skver. When he found out this boy was the son of Neta Balaban, he invited him to his house, giving him a full meal there, but could not afford to give him money for the expenses of traveling home. During their discussion, my father mentioned that he knew how to be a synagogue cantor. The man wasn't sure if the lad was telling the truth, but my father insisted, and the man took him to a certain house of study to pray the evening prayer. His voice was sweet to the congregation, and they invited him to pray on the Sabbath. The money he earned for those two Sabbaths gave him enough to get home. When he arrived home, he heard that [the town of] Rivne had established a yeshiva similar to that of Kishinev, and he decided to try his luck there. He got to Rivne and was accepted as a student in the yeshiva, where he studied for 2 years.

During that same time, [my] grandfather [his father] emigrated to the United States, and my father was completely on his own. He began to study the Prophets and the Writings, and the Hebrew language, to read books in the [burgeoning modern] Hebrew language, and general literature. These were days of youth revolutions, of intellectual enlightenment [“Haskalah”], of great and lofty yearnings of the spirit to welcome new expanses and broad–minded subjects.

Indeed, my father never had a diploma or a degree, but in the field of Judaism, he excelled and transcended, and with regard to secular subjects, his knowledge made my brother and me jealous, when we ourselves passed through college.

In 1910, my father was drafted to the army and was sent to Dubno. After basic training, he was accepted as a “volturno” player in the military orchestra, encamped in Farber–Zebramya. Over the course of time, by several visits to the Rubenstein family home, he met his future wife. During his service, the young soldier would delight the congregation of the “Mishartim” study house on the Days of Awe with his cantorial skills, and many, many people remembered him for this kindness for a long time.

During that same time, my father met the teacher Elimelech Blei, who had a great influence on my father, and brought him to teach Hebrew after the completion of his army service. Despite the age difference between them, they became great friends.

[Column 387]

But my father finished his service, and soon after the dark clouds of war began to knot the sky. That awful war broke out, and my father decided to hide rather than go to battle. He hid in secret for 3 years, and only in 1917, with the breakout of the [Russian] Revolution, he left his hiding place and began to build a life for himself. He married his fiancée, who waited for him faithfully all that time. When they had their first child – my brother – they gave him a Hebrew name: Ben–Ami [meaning, “Son of My Nation”]. This was the first child in Dubno to receive a modern Hebrew name. Even this name was only possible after a fierce argument between the two families among those who wanted to keep to tradition even in this.

 

dub387.jpg
Shlomo Balaban

 

My father started to work as a teacher in Dubno, first by giving private lessons, and then in the Zebramya school, where Elimelech Blei also taught. Already then, my father stood at the center of the youth cultural life of Hebrew–lovers. He organized choirs, theater presentations, managing youth movements, and teaching songs of the homeland, all this during his free time during evenings and nights. So it went until 1919, when the school closed and my father was invited to come to Zdolbuniv to teach

[Column 388]

there in the “Tarbut” school; a similar school would open in Dubno only in 1927.

In 1927, a “Tarbut” school opened in Dubno,[2] and my father was invited by Elimelech Blei to return to teach together [“in one basket”] with him. For the next 12 years, until Western Ukraine was seized by the Russians, my father put so much of his energy in this school into the education of the young generation, and the dissemination of Hebrew in Dubno.

The school salary did not provide enough for the finances of the house, and was actually lower than a teaching salary in the public schools. For this reason, many teachers sought out additional jobs by giving private lessons in the students' homes, where their parents wanted them to get some knowledge of the “Holy Language,” which they would call the “Hebrew language.”

Some fundamental changes began to take place within the Jewish population as a result of the annexation by the Soviet Union in September 17th, 1939. Zionism and Hebrew became ideas against the state, and anyone who was a known Zionist while the Polish were in power was recorded on a “black list,” and many of them were sent to Siberia. All the Hebrew teachers obviously found themselves registered in this “black list,” but one of my father's students was an important officer in the NKVD [People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs], the Russian secret police, and he tried mightily on behalf of the teachers who had not yet been expelled from the city to let them continue teaching in the Yiddish–Soviet school. At the beginning of the 1939–1940 school year, two Jewish schools were founded, but there were many parents who did not wish that their children learn Yiddish, and they lobbied the Department of Education that they should be able to transfer their children to the schools they want – and they were successful in their lobbying efforts. After that, there was only one school left in which all instruction was in Yiddish. My father got a job there, and was appreciated there. But it was hard for the Zionist Jew to adapt to the new environment, which was as yet unclear, and so the teachers had to be happy with the fact they could continue teaching in their own cities.

The invasion of the Nazis into the Soviet Union put an end to this not–so–happy situation, and also quickly put an end to the lives of the Jews in Dubno in general. My brother, Ben–Ami, was sent to prison, where they squeezed out of him any military knowledge he had from when he was stationed in Belgium in 1938, and six weeks after that, he was taken out to be killed. My father never merited to reach the land he so yearned for, where he would have been able to find hundreds of his students working its soil and shaking off its desolation. He never merited to see his grandchildren speaking a living Hebrew language as their mother tongue. He never merited, for he was forced, together with all the citizens of Dubno, into the ghetto, with all its terrible conditions, until the final round–up of the Jews, when he was a tortured and downtrodden man, taken together with my mother to be thrown into the mass graves…


Translator's footnotes:
  1. The practice in many yeshivas in pre–war Europe was for the yeshiva to rely on the hospitality of local families to feed the students of the yeshiva in that town, on a rotation basis. The days spent at each house was called “eating days” (le'echol yamim), or in Yiddish, “essen tag.” – tc. Return
  2. Although in the previous chapter, it states that a Tarbut school opened in Dubno in 1918, and in column 196, it says 1917. On the other hand, on the chapter on the Tarbut school starting in column 320, it says the Tarbut school opened in 1927, as we have it here. It may be, as suggested by Shirley Ginzburg to me, that different grade schools were opened at different times under the name “Tarbut.” The earlier school of 1917 may have been ages 12–18, given that it was reported to only have 6 classes (which is usual for a Hebrew school to have less classes for older students), while the 1927 opening may have been for younger children, 7–12 years of age. –tc Return


[Column 389]

Eliyahu Machrook

by P.Y.

Translated by Aryeh Sklar

 

dub389.jpg

 

A politico? No, no, this is not the right word to describe Eliyahu Machrook. Yes, in his short life – quite short (1901–1927) – his positive qualities were so pronounced that he clearly stood head and shoulders above many of his peers. From a young age, his considerable talents showed in mathematics and Russian literature. Additionally, as the son of a Hebrew teacher, he knew the fundamentals of Jewish studies as well. He was greatly popular among the inhabitants of the city, and not just as a true prodigy in matters intellectual, but as one who merited to be of the first founders of the youth movements “HeChalutz [“The Pioneer”], and “HaShomer HaTze'ir [“The Young Guard”], at a time when most of his peers were in the dark regarding the subtleties of political movements which arose after the Revolution and the changes happening in the country. He was a well–equipped ideologue, ready for the passion necessary as a speaker and leader. He was yet a young man when he honed to excellence his sharp and brilliant oratory skills. Memorable to many was his speech given at the first year of the opening of the university in Jerusalem, a speech that turned the assembly into a beautiful rally for the Land of Israel.

His life was cut so very short – before his time! – he was only 26 years old when he died. The day before his passing, he received a notice from the Hebrew college in Lublin that he was appointed as an administrator there, after he had proved himself a gifted teacher in the Jewish college in Dubno. Many people in Israel were among his friends, his students, or his admirers, who remember him as a layer of foundation for Hebrew education in Dubno, and [part of the motivation] for their immigration to the Land of Israel.


[Column 390]

Shlomo Reichman, Teacher

by Asher Reichman

Translated by Aryeh Sklar

Pinchas Pessas (son of Rabbi Yeshaya), of blessed memory, who was a friend of Shlomo Reichman, writes in The City of Dubno and its Scholars:

A community of scholars, a praised and respectable city – the Greater Dubno, a (II Samuel 20:19) “city and a mother to Israel” from days of old. One of the ancient Jewish cities in the northern lands, it contained two yeshivas, tents of the righteous, (Isaiah 8:20) “for Torah and for testimony.” Its rabbis, its scholars, and its teachers – the origins of the geniuses of spirit who made a name in the “call of generations,” who produced many capable students in judgement and decisions of Jewish law, many of them close to each other, of one great family, a glorious family of fathers and sons.

It's true. If we wanted to know the spring from which they drew, those who imbued our national exile with the fierceness of their spirit and their will; if we desired to know the sources from which they nurtured their inner self and the national fortitude; we would not be able to ignore the portion and the contribution of the preacher [darshan], the sermonizer [maggid], the Zionist speaker, alongside the Hebrew teacher, who met face–to–face with his students, with the youth, guiding and explaining and lighting a fire in them for Zion and Jerusalem. They were the ones who would raise high, from pulpit to pulpit, for dozens of years, the message of national redemption, in the cities of the exile, shaping the minds of the masses in the house of Israel.

[Column 391]

The life story of my father, my teacher, Shlomo Reichman, is a series of successful activities in education and in Zionism. The “land of his blossoming” – Dubno. As a youngster in his Zionist household (his father, my grandfather, was also a Hebrew teacher), he was raised with an abundance of love for the Land of Israel and the workers of the Land. He was fluent in Hebrew, and he used it to teach Torah – Hebrew language and the Hebrew Bible – to the children of Dubno, Rivne, and Demydivka.

 

dub391.jpg

 

During the first World War, our family moved to Rivne. My father was drafted into the Russian army. When he returned from his army service, he continued to teach. The following is an account recorded by one Aryeh, son of Menachem, found in the book The Community of Rivne:

R. Shlomo Reichman, originally from Dubno, who had arrived in Rivne in the years of the first World War, taught in the school of R. Asher Lemel Kaulker, and after that in Yeshiva Eitz Chaim. But mainly, he did private tutoring

[Column 392]

in Hebrew language, and in religious studies, in the students' houses. He was a scholar and a strong advocate for Hebrew.

After the war, my father took his family back to Dubno. My father also had a proclivity to write poetry on matters relevant to the day. He would compose them and publicize them by sticking them to the walls of the study house on the eve of the Sabbath and the Festivals. The poems were always a hit, received with great warmth by the congregation. He loved to send poems on Purim as “Mishloach Manos” [Purim gifts] to all his students and their parents, and so he was given the nickname, “Teacher Shlomo [Shlomo Lehrer]”, or “Shlomo the Lion Writer [Shlomo Leib Shreibers]”.

My father had a particular way of getting close to others and befriending them, and he thus loved entertainment and comedy. He would constantly rouse his friends, calling for them to act on behalf of the Land of Israel and the Jewish people with getting the word out.

Not for nought did they say about him, “Reb Shlomo vet keynmal nit alt verren– R. Shlomo will never grow old!”

The day I was set to immigrate to Israel, he presented me with one of his blessings in the form of a song and text that he would always recite called “Provisions for the Way [Tzeda LaDerech]”:

Arise, my son, go up and do well! [Kuma, bni, ala v'hitzlach]

And I after you – in the end [V'ani acharecha – b'sach]

The people in your family with the people of our nation, [Bnei mishpacha im bnei amenu]

To build up and to be built upon in the land of our forefathers. [Lebanot u'l'hibanot b'eretz avotenu]

He never did [follow after me], and his death was in Rivne, where he had moved back to in order to be with his eldest daughter, in the Holocaust which ravaged the Jewish people.


R. Mott'l Loitziker

by Avraham Shritnik

Translated by Aryeh Sklar

R. Mott'l Loitziker was a typical teacher of young children [melamed dardaki], but he wasn't just a melamed. He worked as a matchmaker occasionally, as a real estate broker, and mediator, all with the goal of providing something for his family. R. Mott'l was a big–boned and big–hearted Jew, wise and clever, his words sharp, and very personable, [yet] he never gave in or stooped down for anyone.

Shortly before the first World War, he lived in Dubno, next door to the Great Synagogue Yeshiva, where about 40 young men studied. The Yeshiva had been established by the Hasidic Rabbi, Rabbi Eliyahu Guttman, known as “The Young Rabbi.” The butcher R. David Tzvi provided support for the institution. They also did not lack monetary support from the community. The teachers were R. Mott'l Loitziker for Talmud and Tosafist commentaries, and another teacher, Masurmitch.

I was then 16 years old. Of the 5 children in the house, it was my lot to study Torah. I can't say my heart was really into the Torah study, but I was forced to turn my ear to the Torah [lesson]. We sat from morning to evening and we listened to the explanatory lectures – sometimes they were quite sophisticated – from R. Mott'l. And the smack of his hand upon us was not an infrequent occurrence.

[Column 393]

Statskye Bosyaki [1] – State Bums!” – he would roar at us. And we were already older, not some children in elementary school, but adolescents past the age of bar mitzvah. But for him it was all the same – one must place fear in the students!

R. Mott'l ate the same way he taught. He would pick one of us and he would be sent to R. Mott'l's wife, “the melamedes – the schoolmarm,” to bring him his food. And when he would eat, that was free time for us, the “state bums,” a good thing for us and for him – [i.e.] R. Mott'l. He would sit and put a lot of salt on his food, then he would place the food slowly into his mouth, and would enjoy it with every fiber of his being.

The messenger of his food [was usually] a boy by the name of Wolke Margolies. One time he got fed up with this responsibility, and began to devise schemes to get himself out of it. What did he do? He went and bought alkaline soda, sprinkled it liberally on the food; and when R. Mott'l's fork reached his mouth, he spat three times and declared, “What happened to my holy wife today, that she burned the food?” The evil laughter of the pranksters immediately alerted

[Column 394]

R. Mott'l to the shameful deed, and the “State Bums” obviously got what they deserved.

The yeshiva didn't last very long. The classes ended and the students disbanded, and R. Mott'l went back to being a melamed.

R. Mott'l had sons and daughters, but he got no parental pride [nachas] from them – they did not follow in the [religious] path of their father.

Finally, he has one witty saying. One time, R. Mott'l Loitziker was standing close to the house of R. Yissochar–Barisch Roitman, and he was doing some business. A man turned to him and said, “Everyone knows that there is no difference between a melamed and an insane person! Yet, you are a melamed, and you are not insane at all – how do you explain that!” R. Mott'l responded, “Among the melamed teachers, I have never found an exception to that rule, me included, which would mean I count my portion among the insane… But I have one tried–and–true remedy for it. I have a drawer in my teacher's desk that opens with a key. When I end class, I take my insanity and lock it securely in the drawer… So when I am around people, I can be Mott'l and not ‘the insane melamed!’”


Translator's footnote:
  1. This is Russian which the author transliterated into Hebrew. –tc Return


The Brothers David and Tzvi Perl

by Nisan

Translated by Aryeh Sklar

 

Dub394a.jpg
Tzvi Perl
 
Dub394b.jpg
David Perl

 

Among the most prominent public Jewish personalities in Dubno were the brothers David and Tzvi Perl, the former being the head of the Zionist movement in the city, the latter being the sitting head of Keren HaYesod. They were born in Dubno, into a family steadfast in the [Jewish] tradition. They received a traditional religious Jewish education, and they acquired their Haskalah [secular enlightenment] much later, through independent study. They worked in factory production and trade, with great factories producing dried and treated materials, and packaging of hops.

The period between the two World Wars was a time of explosion for the progress of the Zionist movement, as well as for Jewish nationalist life in Poland in general and Dubno in particular. And during this period the brothers David and Tzvi dedicated their best talents, their energy, and their time, to the Zionist movement, and to Jewish public life as a whole. They stood at the head of

[Column 395]

the fundraising campaign for Keren HaYesod and Keren HaKayemet LeYisrael; they promoted and readied immigration [to the Land of Israel], and they were among the founders of the nationalist school “Tarbut,” taking part in its leadership for as long as it lasted.

Even with the dedication of their time and energy to Zionist activities and culture, the Perl brothers never disregarded the pressing needs of their own community As wealthy and high–class individuals – with connections to the authorities – they knew how to make use of their positions for the good of the Jewish community, “standing in the breach” [to protect them] during the time of the discriminatory laws which hung like the Sword of Damocles on the heads of the Jewish citizens. To illustrate, when the municipality declared the intent to destroy the old merchant area, which was bound to negatively affect many Jews, eliminating their ability to make a living, the members of the Jewish council, with David Perl at their head, worked their utmost capabilities to undo the worst of the decree, to allow the merchants of the area time to move to other places. They worked, and they were successful. And so they saved many Jews from peril, from losing their money and property.

In the year 1939, the Soviets seized that area of Poland. As leaders of the Jewish community and of the general area, as Zionists and wealthy businessmen, the Perl brothers did not have a smooth transition under Soviet authority. They were imprisoned in 1940, and their lot is unknown from that point on.


[Column 396]

The Brothers Tzvi and Eliyahu Meizler

by Nisan

Translated by Aryeh Sklar

Originally from the city of Polonne [in Ukraine], because of the disturbances of the war and the pogroms in Ukraine, they arrived in Dubno and set up their residence and home. They and their families soon integrated in the city scene, even becoming prominent members of the local city groups, especially as Zionists, recognizing their nation and origins.

 

Dub396a.jpg
Tzvi Meizler
 
Dub396b.jpg
Eliyahu Meizler

 

It was something of a strange fact that they appeared as if the two of them were a unified personality, and their Zionism was merged into one of them in his induction into the “Bnei Moshe” group of the foundation of Echad Ha'am. The special status of an individual as a member of the Bnei Moshe collective was counted from the days of R. Zalman Ashkenazi as a kind of honor, a crown on the head of a Zionist that everyone must respect, and so, even a brother can get the benefit of his brother's honor crowned in the badge of pride. Indeed, in their Zionist activities, the two brothers acted as one, their desires and thoughts completely given over to the Land of Israel.


[Column 397]

David Horowitz

by Nisan

Translated by Aryeh Sklar

 

Dub397.jpg

 

David Horowitz was born in the year 1888. The very beginnings of his education, like most others in his generation, was at the “Cheder” [religious children's school], and he received his [secular] education at the gymnasium and then at the universities of the greater cities of Russia and abroad. Horowitz was, in his nature, a passionate soul, and he bonded well with regular folks. He was a rebel already in his youth; he rebelled against the social regime which was exploitive and discriminatory, and he also rebelled against the negative habits that clung to our nation over the course of the long exile. He was a reservoir of Jewish awareness, and he fought fiercely with this awareness. They tell a story about him that took place during the Czarist period. A Russian officer permitted himself to openly insult Judaism and the “kikes” [yehudonim] right in front of Horowitz, who responded there and then with true strikes, teaching that officer a lesson, a man of the “Black Hundreds,” [1] who took what was coming to him. The reverberation of that story was great, and severe was his anticipated punishment, and so Horowitz was forced to flee the country. He was tried in absentia; the sentence waiting for him was severe, and only with the breakout of the [Russian] Revolution did he return to Dubno.

[Column 398]

During the reign of [Ukrainian commander Symon] Petliura, the terrible enemy [Ukrainian military administrator Volodymyr] Oskilko turned his attention [to the Jewish people] following the “Purim” pogrom that was known to the Jewish community in its demand for heavy fines, alongside the terrible pogrom itself that occurred when they could not come up with the full amount [perpetrated by Petliura]. This attention was brought about by the campaigning and the personality of David Horowitz. Indeed, Horowitz, in his characteristically fierce passion, responded to Oskilko that the error was with him, if he thought that an independent Ukraine could be established through the blood of innocent Jews, and surely he was not ready to lead his people day–in and day–out under the stench of spilled blood. Suffice it to say, by taking such a position, Horowitz was throwing away his life. But he knew not how to flatter, nor how to bow in submission, even before murderers. He just reacted without fear and without a care for the anticipated danger.

Horowitz was an activist who was uniquely gifted in his activism and poured himself into it. His views and opinions were related to those of the revolutionists – “Simovicim,”[2] “Bund,”[3] – but his fierce style did not allow him to connect as a follower to any particular and defined party. As a youth, his style was one of rebellion, and as he became older this turned into many constructive activities. He never became an administrator for some foundation, but he would contribute and find ways to set into motion the creation of organizations and foundations such as K.A.P.E., and A.Z.E.,[4] and he worked hard to establish and develop the Jewish hospital in the city. As an appointed official in the municipality, he did many things in the welfare bureau, concerning himself with providing professional training for the youth through the goal of founding an “ORT”[5] school, but because of the turbulence of the times, he did not succeed in doing so. During the height of the Zionist activities of the city, he was close to the “Hitachdut” [“Unity”] group, and he looked favorably at educating his children in the “Hashomer HaTzeir” [“The Young Guard”] movement.

While not many people of Dubno joined the Piłsudski–Sanation [movement],[6] Horowitz nevertheless expressed his fierce opposition to anyone who even showed a hint of willingness to join it, which he viewed as political obsequiousness, a lowering of Jewish pride and self–respect.[7]

We know but bits and pieces of the activities of the public leaders in the Ghetto, and we certainly don't know anything about the activities of David Horowitz during those terrible times in the tiny Ghetto. The few reports that have come to us by way of firebrands rescued from the literature regarding his depressed state, and his stubborn will to help others, together with the community that he had fostered and educated, he “dreamed and he fought” [chalam ve–lacham], and he found his death within the Ghetto.


Translator's footnotes:
  1. These were gangs of antisemitic thugs who operated under the auspices of the Czar at the beginning of the 20th century. –tc Return
  2. I do not know what movement this refers to. –tc Return
  3. The General Jewish Labour Bund was a secular Jewish socialist party in the Russian Empire, active between 1897 and 1920. Return
  4. I do not know which foundations these are. –tc Return
  5. ORT is a Russian acronym meaning “Association for Vocational Crafts” –tc Return
  6. This was a Polish political movement created between World War I and World War II. Named after the Latin word for “healing” (“sanatio”), the Sanation movement mainly comprised former military officers who were disgusted with the perceived corruption in Polish politics. Sanation was a coalition of rightists, leftists and centrists whose main focus was the elimination of corruption and the reduction of inflation. (Wikipedia) – tc Return
  7. A large following of the Sanation movement were those devoted to disenfranchising the Jews of Poland. After founder Pilsudski died in 1935, this part split from the group to create the “Camp of National Unity”, and one part of their agenda was adopting 13 theses on the Jewish question. Modeled after the Nuremberg laws, they labelled Jews as a foreign element that should be deprived of all civil rights and ultimately expelled altogether. (Wikipedia) –tc Return


Asher–Zelig Bernstein

by Nisan

Translated by Aryeh Sklar

[Column 399]

Asher–Zelig Bernstein was born in the town of Berestechko, near Dubno. Yeshiva–educated and possessing a sharp mind, when Asher–Zelig moved away from home, he decided to look toward the trade business to make money. He tried to integrate into the tight–knit trade families, but he was a foreign “plant” in their midst. Only once he started to show his strength in community affairs, revitalizing it, it became clear to all, as well as to himself, that he was born to be involved in community affairs. He was a hardworking man, punctilious and meticulous, who loved order and organization, and with that always behaved with fairness toward others. With great understanding, whenever he would see a man before him, a man alone in his worries and his distresses, Asher Zelig would work to help him however much he could. Thus, all respected him and admired him.

There is no doubt that the proximity of the town of his birthplace to Dubno was very helpful in preparing him for his involvement in public affairs and Zionism. It seemed to “overflow from its spirit” to him, granting him a strength to his communal activities before the Holocaust, as well as during the Nazi reign. Asher–Zelig invested great energy in the organization of refugees in the eve of the World War, at a time when the Nazis began the expulsion of the “Ost Yidden” [Eastern–European Jews] from Zbaszyn, a town on the Poland–Germany border.[1] These poor refugees were forced to find somewhere to live for themselves on the streets of the country. In those hard days, Asher–Zelig stood and never stopped empathizing with the utter bitterness of those strangers who lost everything and became homeless.


Translator's footnote:
  1. Also known as Polenaktion, it was the arrest and expulsion of about 17,000 Polish Jews living in Nazi Germany in October 1938. These deportations, ordered by SS officer and head of the Gestapo Reinhard Heydrich, displaced thousands of Polish Jews along the Germany–Poland border. (Wikipedia) –tc Return


Shimon–David Feffer

by M.C.

Translated by Aryeh Sklar

In his youth, he was inducted into a select group of young men of study–house regulars and acquirers of general education, like many Jewish youths

 

Dub399.jpg

[Column 400]

would at the end of the 19th century. Over the course of time, this group produced public leaders, their seals affixed upon the revival of Judaism in the city, and after Kerensky's revolution in 1917, [1] they took positions in the institutions they founded.

Shimon–David Feffer was among the founders of the Tarbut school, a member of the town committee of all the Zionist groups, and he was active in the “Keren HaYesod” institution. Out of great care and worry for the success of the Zionist movement in the city, he took an active position in the election of the local public institutions, such as the city council, the community council, etc.

He raised his children in the spirit of Zionism, and two of his children actually immigrated to the land of Israel and joined in building it up. While he himself spoke of immigrating with his wife and youngest daughter, the war broke out, killing his plans and them all together.


Translator's footnote:
  1. Alexander Fyodorovich Kerensky was a Russian lawyer and revolutionary who was a key political figure in the Russian Revolution of 1917 (Wikipedia). –tc Return


A Portrait of R. Avraham–Moshe Kolton

by S.K.

Translated by Aryeh Sklar

A Maskil [1] of the previous century, Kotlon's “training” was not any different than all the other maskilim of that era: religious studies upon the benches in the study–house of the “distinguished” Volozhin yeshiva, in the Odessa Yeshiva, and the “achsatran” program[2] in secular studies. And in Odessa, one joined the “Hibat Zion” [“Lover's of Zion” movement] – obviously – and subsequent Zionist activities over time.

Kolton was a Zionist with every fiber of his being [lit. “with his 248 limbs”[3]], never allowing for any work or activity to not have him be a part of it. A zealot for the Hebrew language, he strove to raise his children with a Jewish education, to give to them of the treasury of the nation's spirit, from which he drew and absorbed all his days. A great friend of the youth movement, he had a great influence on them in their campaigns for fundraising. He demanded from every single person in the youth movement that they practice what they preached to others, and immigrate to the land of Israel. As someone who would “expound and also fulfill,”[4] he sent his children before he himself would immigrate to “cherish its dirt.”[5] He dreamt of immigration – but never achieved it. The Holocaust that fell upon the house of Israel also felled his longings alongside it.


Translator's footnotea:
  1. A follower or adherent of the Haskalah movement, plural “maskilim.” Return
  2. A program of studies apparently popular among the maskilim of the late 19th century, attested to in many Hebrew sources, but I cannot find its equivalent in English. –tc Return
  3. A symbolic Talmudic number of limbs, often added together to 356 muscles and sinews to equal 613 – the number of Biblical commandments Return
  4. A phrase from the Talmud (see, for example, Hagiga 14b), meaning to practice what one preaches. Return
  5. Cf. Psalms 102:15 Return

 

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