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[Columns 657-658]

Jewish Livelihoods, Figures In The Town

Translated by Yocheved Klausner

Asher Reichman

Every town has its own ways, figures and personalities, with all sorts of names and surnames. The unique way of life in our town was expressed by the somewhat mocking nicknames given to some of the Dubno people, while for others the nickname would be an asset, making his personality lovable.

Many and varied were the types walking around in the Jewish streets of Dubno. A great number of them deserve to be remembered forever - they have earned that. These figures are standing now before my eyes, as if they demand rehabilitation: please tell our tale, so our nation would know about us, because everything flies by and vanishes, new people and new events come about, a new generation turns up and the old one goes away, and all is forgotten. And it is a pity, a great pity, that so many are not any more.

It may happen, that your child will ask you tomorrow: How did the Jewish town in the Diaspora look? Or, out of ignorance, the child will mock and ridicule the residents of the little towns and villages of bygone days in Russia, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Romania and elsewhere.

[Columns 659-660]

So you must tell the child, explain and describe the life of the Jewish community, which did not have a tight budget or many paid clerks - and still the community would make sure that every hungry person would have a piece of bread and every needy would have some clothing, and the sick would be seen by a doctor and given the needed medicine. Even the dying and the lonely were not abandoned. All this, thanks to willing and warmhearted people, always ready to help others.

Days and years will pass, and our children may not be aware that in the town where their parents were born such compassionate people existed, Jews with good qualities, respected and of good spirit. They are the ones who have forged the Golden Chain of the generations, and later they pitched their tents in the Homeland that has come to life again.

So, who were the Jews of Dubno?

Most of them were simple Jews, modest, without pretensions or special demands. Not many well-to-do among them; many of them were poor people. Providing for the next day was everyone's worry, and their living conditions forced them to work hard and be content with little. Together they pulled the livelihood-cart: the head of the family, the mother, the children - who were mostly undernourished. They were peddlers, day laborers, handymen and middlemen; they made a living by trading with each other and bartering with the peasants from the surrounding villages. They tried to educate their children as best they could - in the Heder, in the Talmud Torah or in the public state-school, and tried to make sure that the child knew Yiddish and a bit of “Yiddishkeit” and not abandon the ways of their father-and-mother and the Jewish 613 commandments.

The densely populated narrow streets created close neighbors and brought together the hearts. Everyone had a good friend, with whom he could talk heart to heart and share his joys and sorrows. This nearness caused people to assign their friends nicknames, sometimes mockingly sometimes fondly - all according to the circumstances and the feelings. Sometimes the nicknames were taken from their occupation or their origin. When a Jewish woman would say “I am going for a while to Black Bashe” or “to grandma Yente” she meant that she went to her closest friend.

The names would be inherited from generation to generation, from the great-great-grandfathers or grandmothers. From those who originated in certain places, I remember the names: Shmuel Matchever [from Matchev], Leibke Patchayever. Or by the character or a special trait of the person - Shalom God-forbid, or Don't-worry, or The-money-smells. There were nicknames by the occupation or profession: Binyamin the carpenter, Welwel the cobbler and so on.

This was how the nicknames became a matter of everyday use. Through them, a special feeling of closeness and sympathy for the person was expressed.


In general, the biblical verse in Genesis 3 “In the sweat of your face shall you eat bread” can very well refer to the majority of the Dubno Jews, who have been chasing after their livelihood - parnasa - and never fully reached it. Their occupations were numerous and varied: commerce on a big scale as well as small businesses, brokers, peddlers, grocers; doctors, lawyers, teachers and the like; employees and independent workers; and a significant number of people whose profession or occupation could not be exactly defined. They were the people who have been laboring hard, doing difficult physical work - the water carriers, the carriage drivers, occupations that were practiced only by Jews.

They managed to keep proper and respectable relations, in spite of the harsh competition. A special group of people, albeit not officially organized, was able to protect the interests of the workers, just as if they belonged to official unions. Actually there were three such unions: the carriers or porters, the carriage drivers and the cart owners. The more privileged among them

[Columns 661-662]

were, naturally, the carriage drivers. They, too, could be divided into those who possessed beautiful, ornate and well kept carriages and those who had the old and worn out ones, which begged for repair and refurbishing. Their work was to drive passengers to the train station (a distance of 5 kilometers from the center of town) and back, bring the sick to the doctor, or take families to a joyous event - a wedding or a party, or just a visit. Thanks to their type of work they were in contact with many residents of the town, and befriended many of them. They were always ready to tell a joke or some funny characteristic story about one person or another. They were the primary source of every “secret” that had ceased to be a secret, because it was told “secretly” in the ear but it rolled from carriage to carriage and from street to street, and of course every person added a bit of information to the story..

Another type of people were the “balagules” [owners of hauling carts] whose work was to transport heavy loads or deliver merchandise that would arrive from other towns. They were simple folk, “everyday Jews,” but their material situation was a better one. Their center of activity was mostly in the suburb of Surmitch, but they worked in other neighborhoods as well. Their apartments were better and more comfortable those of other people in the same social class.

The main assembly-point of the carriers and porters was at the end of Shiroka Street, near the court house, always ready to go at the first call to load or unload wares, carry loads from one place to another or transfer furniture from one apartment to another. Their clothes were simple - an old and mostly torn jacket, pants tucked in their boots, which they wore summer and winter, a cap and a long rope tied around their middle: this was their working tool. Their back betrayed their occupation: it was always bent - this form given to it by the sacks of flour it had carried. In the hot summer-days they would catch a short nap in the shade of some house, in the winter they would jump and dance and pat themselves on the shoulders to get warm.

All those Jews, however, simple and humble as they were, possessed a strong Jewish-national consciousness, warm hearts and a feeling of sharing in joy and compassion in sorrow. They were hard-working Jews, who made their living with what God in Heaven had given them, friendly, ready to help each other and forgive and make peace in the case of a conflict or misunderstanding. They had their own synagogues and prayer-houses where they would feel “at home,” and on the Sabbath and Holidays they felt certain that the “Shechina” [the Divine Spirit] was dwelling upon their houses of prayer.

But dark days have reached the town - not days of reverence, but of horror and pain. And all those strong, robust men have perished, died “Al Kidush Hashem” - for the sanctification of the Name of God.

[Columns 661- 664]

Names and Surnames

Surname Name Nickname
BEIDER Avraham  
WOLITZER Avraham  
  Avreimenyu With the papers
BARUCH Ide From the eggs
  Idele Shmaltz [chicken-fat]
  Itzik Eli The smart
  Itzik The bald
KOSS Itzikel  
  Isser Cobbler
  Ester The server
  Asher Tzimbele [cymbal]
  Bubbe [grandma] Yente's
  Bassie The black
  Binyamin The tall
  Binyamin The carpenter
  Binyamin The kid (young goat)
    The little weasel
    The cotton dealer
    The ticker
    The Turk
  Henie Dudich's
  Henie The buck (goat)
  Henie From the geese
  Hersch The pitcher
  Hersch The rope turner
  Hersch The Shames (synagogue attendant)
  Herzl The Torah reader
  Welwele The cobbler
    Zibele (born prematurely)
  Zisl Grabulke
  Zalman The yellow
  Zalman The black
  Chantzi The mad
  Chaia Machle With the blue lips
BATIST Chaim  
  Chaim The bridge maker
  Chaim The nouveau-riche
BENEDIK Yankel  
  Yankel Beilitchke's
  Yankel The tall
  Yankel Kugel
  Yankel Kishke (gut)
  Yankel From the eggs
  Yankel without the hand
  Yosel Toibe's
FIDEK Yosel  
  Yosele Esav [Esau]
  Yona The glazier
  Yehoshua The yellow
  Yente The Golden
  Yosel The rag dealer
BODYONI Israel  
  Luzer The deaf
TOTZ Leib  
PIVNIK Leizer  
POLIAK Leizer  
  Matye The watercarrier
  Motel The crooked
  Meir Moshe Chaia Feige's
  Meir Knak
  Menye The fat woman
  Mechil The tavern keeper
  Mechil The tall
  Meir Tavern keeper
  Malka The fat woman
  Motel The red
  Moshe "Trough"
  Moshe The skinny
FILLER Moshe  
FLITT Moshe  
SHKALIK Nachum  
  Nisel The doctor
  Nosie The driver
  Sofer With the base [music]
  Stisie The fat woman
  Srulik The world lier
KORIK Etti  
  Pitti The mute
  Peisie Shikele
  Fishel Yosi's
  Pesie The grandma
  Kaye The rag
    Money smell
  Kobenyu Cobbler
    The Ratchiner
  Shamay The rag dealer
  Shmulik Dogpusher
  Shaul Katchkes [Ducks]
SHREIBERS Shlomo Leib  
  Shalom Halila [God-forbid]
OCHS Sara'nyu  
TZAK Shefi  


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